SWN gas exploration head leaves province1/7/2013
SUSSEX – The man New Brunswickers have become most familiar with as an industry leader in natural gas exploration has left the province.
SWN Resources Canada’s public relations representative, Tracey Stephenson, confirmed the company’s general manager for New Brunswick operations, Tom Alexander, got a new posting within the company and has returned to Houston, Texas.
She said, however, SWN is no less dedicated to painting a picture of hydrocarbon potentials in the province through exploratory work.
“We’re definitely still open,” Stephenson said of SWN’s Moncton office.
“The company remains committed to its exploration project in New Brunswick.”
Calls to SWN’s toll-free New Brunswick phone number allows callers to leave a message. Its website says Nicki Atkinson, who held the same title under Alexander, is exploration manager.
Stephenson said SWN hasn’t filled Alexander’s former general manager position which saw him address crowds and answer concerns by New Brunswickers on the controversial issue of shale gas, and be SWN’s main face to politicians and their staff.
SWN is currently working out the details of its seismic program planned for this year in the province, she said.
While Energy and Mines Minister Craig Leonard was not available for comment, Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup said he does not see Alexander’s departure as a show of lost faith by the company, but simply a career promotion for Alexander who has been named SWN’s vice president of health, safety and environment.
Northrup had a lot of dealings with Alexander as the minister in charge of the busy natural gas file up until his portfolio change in the fall.
“There is no indication whatsoever that SWN has any change in plans,” he said.
SWN has 32 licences to explore for oil and natural gas in the province, encompassing about one million hectares (2.5 million acres), grouped into three main geographic blocks including the McAdam, Doaktown and Richibucto area; the second block of licences extends from Petitcodiac on the southwest of the province to Shediac on the northeast; and the third block is in the Chipman and Minto area.
In 2010, SWN signed an unprecedented, three-year deal with the previous Liberal government to spend $47 million exploring the province for a new type of industry.
Since then, work has seriously slowed down, however. Little to no exploration of the resource, which is yet to be proven, happened in 2012 as the province worked towards new regulations for the industry. At the time Alexander called SWN’s halted program “disappointing.”
The stalled work while the province worked on its rule book meant too much down time, prompting some small businesses involved in servicing the industry to close their Sussex area offices the past year.
“You can regulate yourself out of business – there is a balance to be found there,” Alexander said as a guest speaker in Sussex last summer after the province revealed proposed new regulations including a more lucrative royalty structure for provincial coffers.
Time runs out on SWN licenses in March 2013, but in an earlier interview Northrup said the province has the authority to grant an extension, especially given the company’s efforts were stalled by the province. SWN has invested $24 million in its New Brunswick exploration program, which is $23 million shy of its commitment.