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HL:RCMP drops New Brunswick government complaint against Calgary energy firm

By Kevin Bissett


FREDERICTON -- The RCMP has dismissed a complaint from the New Brunswick government alleging an energy company broke provincial legislation when it conducted seismic testing without municipal permission.

The Mounties announced Wednesday they would not lay charges against Calgary-based Windsor Energy, one month after the province's natural resources minister said he referred the matter to the police "to protect the people of New Brunswick."

RCMP Sgt. Jean Devost declined to say why investigators would not press charges, referring such questions to the Natural Resources Department. A spokesman for the department said investigators concluded there were no reasonable and probable grounds for charges.

Opposition Liberal Leader Victor Boudreau said the dismissal of the Tory government's complaint shows that the interests of people and municipalities aren't placed above those of energy companies exploring for shale gas, despite the government's claims to the contrary.

"Now we find out that with a simple violation, they can't even charge a company," Boudreau told the legislature.

"They're going to rap the company on the knuckles and tell them not to do it again."

When he referred the matter to the RCMP last month, Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup said an investigation by his department found that on Oct. 17, Windsor Energy carried out geophysical testing using truck-mounted vibration equipment along a highway inside the boundaries of Sussex without municipal permission.

At the time, Northrup accused Windsor Energy of violating regulations under the province's Oil and Natural Gas Act -- legislation he said was "very strong."

On Wednesday, Northrup said it is now clear to him that the regulations are not strong enough.

"I guarantee you in the future that there's going to be regulations and they will be strong regulations against companies that if this mistake is done again, we will make a decision overnight and not take weeks to do this," he said.

"I will definitely not wait for another incident. I have been very, very firm with my staff that we're going to put the proper regulations in place."

Northrup committed to changes within the next month or two.

Boudreau said he has his doubts.

"We're not talking about development here. ... We're not even talking about hydro-fracking," he said. "This is seismic testing that's going on and they are not playing by the rules.

"Obviously the rules that we have are not strong enough."

Khalid Amin, the president of Windsor Energy, apologized soon after the incident. He declined comment Wednesday.

Boudreau said the company should still be punished.

Northrup said Windsor Energy's lease for exploration expired on Nov. 12 and the company has until Feb. 12 to show they have met all the criteria for a new lease.

"We will see what happens after Feb. 12," Northrup said.

The Conservative government has been touting development of the shale gas industry as a way to create jobs and revenue in a province where the net debt is almost $10 billion.

On Tuesday, the government passed a motion in the legislature supporting gas exploration and the development of regulations that it said would protect people and the environment.