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Former AB premier Stelmach advises Ukraine on shale gas: report

Former Alberta premier Ed Stelmach has been giving tips to the Ukrainian government on how to sell controversial shale gas development to a skeptical public, according to a story in the English-language Kyiv Post.

Stelmach, whose Ukranian grandfather emigrated to Canada in 1898, was in the country's capital, Kiev, last week to attend an energy conference hosted by the Massachusetts-based Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

The former premier reportedly declared that Ukraine could help end its dependence on Russian natural gas by tapping into its own vast shale gas reserves, just one of which is estimated at 170 billion cubic meters.

"I am positive that we’re going to see significant investment in exploration," he told Ukranian media.

Development has apparently been stymied to date by low foreign investment, complex regulations and environmental concerns.

Stelmach reportedly has advised the Ukrainian government to follow the Alberta model of public relations, whereby scientists and other third parties are enlisted to explain the extraction process to a potentially wary public.

Shale gas extraction, particularly "fracking" technology, has been under intense scrutiny across North America.

The Tyee's Andrew Nikiforuk reported last week on a landowner's group in Alberta which is calling for a provincial moratorium on the process, arguing it contaminates groundwater and leaks poisonous hydrogen sulphide.

Stelmach apparently told the Kiev conference that shale gas development in Alberta relies on some of the world's most modern technology.

Stelmach is not alone in promoting either the shale gas industry or championing Canada's poor energy regulations abroad.

George Eynon, a member of Alberta's Energy Resources Conservation Board, for example, made presentations on shale gas regulation in Warsaw Poland in 2010 and Paris 2011. Yet the ERCB has been heavily criticized for its management of shallow and deep hydraulic fracking and deregulation of well density in Alberta.

Members of the Canadian Embassy in Poland have also promoted shale gas development. In addition Alex Ferguson, former commissioner of the BC's Oil and Gas Commission also offered advice on unconventional shale gas production to European audiences. Yet the BC industry has caused earthquakes and water controversies in northern BC. (Ferguson is now a senior advisor to Apache Canada).

Talisman and EnCana, two major shale gas developers, have extensive unconventional gas interests in Europe.

Despite the lobbying and presentations, no jurisdiction in Canada has comprehensive regulations on unconventional shale gas that clearly protects groundwater. Noted one 2011 Toronto legal briefing on shale gas:

"The rush to stake a claim in the shale gas development across Canada by some of the biggest players in the natural gas industry has left federal and provincial regulators playing catch-up and produced a patchwork of regulations and policies to govern the industry."

With files from Andrew Nikiforuk.

Geoff Dembicki reports on energy and climate issues for The Tyee.

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