By Cheryl Norrad
FREDERICTON - A high profile New Brunswick environmental group is concerned a recent defection by a provincially employed bureaucrat to a national oil and gas lobby will influence the government further with shale gas exploration in the province, against the wishes of many in the population.
Stephanie Merrill, above, of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.
Stephanie Merrill of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick said Angie Leonard's move from the province's natural gas steering group to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), may give the powerful lobby group access to inside information on shale gas development in New Brunswick.
"Her taking with her to industry, to the biggest [oil and gas] lobby group in Canada, information that she's gained through working with the Natural Gas Steering Group...information that is sensitive and potentially confidential...the biggest concern for us is industry exploiting that information..." said Merrill.
Angie Leonard, above, in an image from her Twitter account
Leonard, sister of Energy Minister Craig Leonard, was employed by the province as an executive with the natural gas steering group, a committee struck in April 2011 by Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup to regulate and oversee the evolution of the burgeoning shale gas industry in New Brunswick. She was also present on several panels speaking to the public at community meetings held by the province on the contentious issue of shale gas, attempting to ally fears of potential environmental damage felt by the populace.
Leonard, third from left, is seen on a natural gas group panel consulting with the public in the community of Taymouth during the summer of 2011
Although shale gas is a high-profile issue in the province, no announcement was made by government about Leonard's move to a player with a strong interest in seeing the industry take off here. The CBC's Jacques Poitras broke the story and Natural Resources spokesman Steven Benteau responded saying Leonard would be given no access to senior officials on the shale gas file.
"They have decided that they will not be meeting with this individual on the natural gas file, and this would be do to the perceived appearance of a conflict...especially in that she is also a relative of a cabinet minister, who is a member of the natural gas steering committee," said Benteau.
But for Merrill, the government saying Leonard will have no access to senior government officials on the file is irrelevant.
"She still has access to communities...other governments like municipal councils and business groups...in a communications capacity and that will be big asset," said Merrill.
Leonard has declined to comment on the controversy surrounding her new position with CAPP. Her Twitter feeds have also been quiet.
- with files from CBC.ca/nb