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(from Telegraph Journal, March 20, 2014)

FREDERICTON – A new coalition of community groups and labour unions has formed the largest concerted effort to date in opposition to shale gas development and hydraulic fracturing in New Brunswick.

The group that includes the Council of Canadians, the New Brunswick Anti Shale Gas Alliance, Unifor, and the province’s conservation council has announced a new campaign with plans to visit every corner of the province to provide “public education about shale gas, clean jobs, and clean energy.”

The Voice of the People Tour has 19 stops across New Brunswick already scheduled. (See schedule here)

At least another seven others are in the works.

The coalition also includes the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the New Brunswick Federation of Labour, the Fredericton and District Labour Council, and the National Farmers Union.

Green Party Leader David Coon is also a part of the group.

“We will be asking the people in our communities several questions,” said Jim Emberger, a spokesman for the anti-shale gas alliance. “Do we know everything we need to know about shale gas? Is shale gas the only way to create jobs? What do you want in your backyard?

“Over the past four years, there’s been little or no public consultations or meetings initiated by the government or the industry, so people are organizing themselves.”

He added: “In addition, the government of New Brunswick has failed to provide the public with peer-reviewed scientific evidence of the harmful effects of shale gas fracking and shale gas development. The people are not getting in the information that they need.”

Emberger said the town hall-style meetings will provide an overview of scientific evidence on the effects of shale gas, specifically hydraulic fracturing.

He said a long-term health study from the University of Colorado’s school of public health completed roughly two years ago will be presented. Newer studies from the University of Missouri and Colorado underscoring health impacts will also be reviewed.

Alternatives to the industry will also be brainstormed, namely clean energy initiatives.

Emberger cites a report by environmental alliance Blue Green Canada that states for the same investment there are seven times as many jobs with clean energy and building efficiency than there is with the oil and gas industry.

“We want to talk about economic development,” said Jean Louis Deveau, chair of the Fredericton chapter of the Council of Canadians. “Our premier is focused on the dig it out, cut it down, and ship it out economy.

“We think there are all kinds of opportunities in clean energy that we haven’t even started to talk about.”

Grassroots groups say the consolidated effort against shale gas will ensure they are better heard.

“There are community organizations, but they weren’t united with a strategic plan and an approach to dealing with both the industry and the government on this issue,” said Water and Environmental Protection for Albert County spokesperson Roy Ries. “This is our opportunity to present information to the public and they can make a choice, otherwise they are being asked to make a choice in ignorance of a lot of the facts.”

Conservation Council of New Brunswick spokeswoman Stephanie Merrill said the tour presents the opportunity to reach people unsure about the shale gas industry.

“The public feels quite overloaded and daunted, not really quite sure what to do, how to participate, and how to respond,” she said. “These opportunities to get directly out to the public with presentations and opportunities for people to ask questions and also participate in discussions is a really good, direct way of engaging people at the local level.”

A first stop is scheduled for Fredericton on March 24.

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