Resource Wise New Brunswick
Indecision about New Brunswick fracking by the government is wasting what’s in the cart, letting the cart rot, and shooting the horse.
Since being elected in the Fall of 2014 the Gallant Liberal government has had exactly two decisive moments: announcing a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in December 2014 and announcing an indefinite moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in May of 2016. The Liberal government’s plan to raise revenue in the province so far has been to hike the harmonized sales tax we pay on goods and services. Unlike our sister province of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick is sitting on possibly the largest deposit of shale gas in Canada. So, when Nova Scotia announced a moratorium it was a “meh” moment. In New Brunswick, it’s a serious matter.
The Gallant government’s latest anouncement about the moratorium on fracturing was a head scratcher for more than a few reasons. It ignores a successful natural gas business and its spin offs in the Sussex, New Brunswick area. Corridor has fracked and maintained operations since 1999. The company last fracked in the summer of 2014, just before the election that brought the Gallant Liberals to power. However, with the Liberal announcement of the moratorium, one of the consequences has been Corridor investing elsewhere in Canada.
Another reason the Liberal decision for an indefinite moratorium was a puzzle is that it had just spent over $500,000 on an almost year-long commission studying the issue of hydraulic fracturing in New Brunswick. The commission was made up of three academics, admitted non-experts, who spent almost a year meeting individuals, groups, businesses, industry, and experts as well as traveling to US shale plays, visiting the Corridor operations near Sussex, and attending conferences.
An examination of the commission’s final report reveals, unfortunately, a social scientist’s approach to a highly scientific issue. The commissioners stopped short of calling New Brunswick citizens unable to understand the highly complex process involved with extracting shale gas from rocks 2+ kilometers below the surface. Their report focuses on how people need to approve things before the industry proceeds/continues. It talks about a lack of trust in government and its ability to protect us. It stresses the need for consultation with First Nations. The report expresses vague concerns with “climate change,” Much of the content of their parrots anti-everything talking points. Summing it up, the report reads exactly like it was written by non-experts.
Although the commissioners were clear it wasn’t part of their mandate to say “yea” or “nay” to hydraulic fracturing their report ends with saying the New Brunswick government has five options. Here’s a screenshot of the “Final Thoughts” page from the report:
Two years ago a group of New Brunswick (NB) citizens formed our group Resource Wise NB. Despite best intentions it was difficult for us to do what we wanted to: travel the province, meeting fellow citizens and discussing shale gas. Many of our members were traveling back and forth to western provinces to work, with others working daily. We did receive a little help from some businesses and groups. However, funding just wasn’t there. The meetings we did have were not well-attended. We became a sound byte for media calling for our reaction to events and to what the anti-fracking groups were doing and saying. After the December, 2014 moratorium was announced our little group seemed irrelevant.
Another pro-industry group formed however, in September, 2015. The New Brunswick Responsible Energy Development Alliance is a industry, business, and manufacturers group. Unlike Resource Wise NB, this group has the bucks behind it to advertise and to maintain a website and social media presence. However, they’ve missed the mark in that they don’t account for the appeal of anti-fracking groups: emotion and folksiness. It’s easy for the anti-frackers to dismiss anything the NBREDA puts out there, no matter how factual it is, because they are going to “benefit” from the shale industry. After almost a year of aggressive advertising that coincided with the Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing meetings and study, the group fell mostly silent after the latest moratorium was announced.
We keep going back to New Brunswick’s record in the shale gas industry. Corridor Resources Inc has operated 32 natural gas wells in the Sussex area, some for over 15 years. With the first moratorium announcement in December, 2014, Corridor stated it would take its investment money elsewhere. (The company has $70 million worth of capital investment for proposed wells on hold indefinitely due to the Liberal moratorium).
This announcement along with the closure of the Potash Corp potash mine have hit the area hard, prompting local business people and citizens to act after the “indefinite” moratorium announcement. If one of the conditions to lift the moratorium is “social license,” then the Sussex area says they give it. On June 23, a group of shale gas supporters met in Sussex to tell the government Sussex is open for business and the community wants the moratorium lifted in the area.
In a logical world this makes sense. Anti-fracking activist Jim Emberger says allowing hydraulic fracturing in New Brunswick would be like putting the horse before the cart. In the Sussex area they’ve had the horse, cart, and everything to go in it. Why ban an industry with a good record still willing to invest in the province?
This from Paul Bedford, one of the Sussex area businesspeople asking for a lift of the moratorium:
As the only community with first-hand experience in ‘our backyards’, we believed we could stay silent no more and that’s why we moved forward with our press conference on June 23rd. We believe citizens are unaware of those who support this industry and it was time they heard our side of the story. As the only region with direct experience and the one that stands to lose significant economic benefits if the moratorium continues, we are asking our elected officials to meet with industry to come to a speedy resolution on this issue. Natural gas development is the right choice for our province and is strongly supported by the greater Sussex area. We support our government adopting a regional development policy.
The Sussex Business Group also asked for a meeting with the provincial government. During this meeting the Energy Minister, Rick Doucet, stuck to the government’s talking points about the moratorium. These are:
- Ensuring a social licence is in place;
- Clear and credible information is available about the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on public health, the environment and water;
- A plan is in place to mitigate the impacts on public infrastructure and to address issues such as waste water disposal;
- A process is in place to respect the duty of the provincial government to consult with First Nations;
- A mechanism is in place to ensure that benefits are maximized for New Brunswickers.
During the meeting with community and business leaders in Sussex, Doucet admitted the government is responsible for all but one of the above points: waste water. Having said that, the government has to give companies guidelines for waste water management. And, so the indecision and lack of leadership continues.
Considering the Sussex situation the government is wasting what’s in the cart, letting the cart rot, and shooting the horse.