The Harper government signalled Thursday that it has no intention to take over regulation of hydraulic fracturing from the provinces, despite a new report that concludes that current regulations may not be adequate to ensure public safety.
Responding to a report from the Canadian Council of Academies on the impact of shale gas development, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said the practice known as fracking is safe, and the provinces are effectively regulating it.
"Shale gas deposits can be developed safely, responsibly, and in compliance with the strict rules in place to protect Canadians," Ms. Aglukkaq said in a statement.
The report released Thursday concluded that there isn't enough known about the environmental and health impacts of fracking to declare it safe, and that key elements of the provinces' regulatory systems "are not based on strong science and remain untested." The council is an independent, non-profit group that does scientific assessments in key policy areas; its shale gas report was requested by the federal government nearly three years ago.
In the House of Commons, New Democratic Party deputy leader Megan Leslie urged the government to step in to regulate the industry.
"For three years, we've been waiting for action and they have done nothing to better regulate fracking," Ms. Leslie said.
Ms. Aglukkaq's parliamentary secretary, Colin Carrie, responded that the Western Provinces have plenty of experience overseeing the industry, and that regulators in the three Western Provinces report that there has never been a proven incident in which oil and gas fracking contaminated drinking water. "We'll continue to work with them to make sure we have the safest use of this resource for Canadians," he said.
The Canadian government has largely left regulation in the hands of the provinces that own the resources, but does play some role in monitoring air pollution from shale gas facilities and may be looking to expand that effort.
In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency is considering whether it needs to impose more federal rules on the oil and gas industry, which has seen a boom in hydraulic fracturing to develop shale gas and tight oil deposits. The industry in the United States worries the EPA will impose more onerous requirements, and blanket rules that may not be appropriate in local jurisdictions.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP)wants the provinces to remain the principal regulator. "We think the owners of the resources are best positioned because of that role to regulate the development of them," CAPP vice-president David Pryce said.
"The council is saying they need more information," Mr. Pryce said. "I guess our perspective is that we've got a robust regulatory environment that has proven our track record in terms of our operations here."
He said both the industry and the provincial regulators will examine the report to see what further work needs to be done, and Ottawa has a role through the federal/provincial environment ministers' forum to ensure best regulatory practices are shared across the country.
British Columbia's Minister of Natural Gas Development Rich Coleman said his province has "the most modern regulations in Canada and one of the most up-to-date regulators in the world for shale gas development."
B.C. is banking on major development of its shale gas resources in the northeastern region of the province to fuel its ambitious liquefied natural gas (LNG) export plans for the northern coast around Kitimat and Prince Rupert. Some British Columbians, including First Nations in northeastern B.C., worry the province is too eager for development to be trusted to properly regulate fracking.