A proper shale gas debate begins in New Brunswick1/14/2013
A few years ago several firms were granted the opportunity to explore for natural gas in New Brunswick.
The provincial government touted the new investment and one senior government employee invoked Alberta and how oil and gas had transformed that province when discussing the potential of natural gas.
I discounted his exuberance but was very interested in this industry as a potential economic driver for rural New Brunswick. At the time, there was no mention of the term ‘hydraulic fracturing’ only that there were new drilling techniques which had made the extraction of gas from shale commercially viable.
The movie Gasland was released in 2010 about the same time as the largest of these exploration projects commenced in New Brunswick.
Several lobby groups decided to actively oppose the development of shale gas in New Brunswick and implemented what became an extremely effective campaign to turn public opinion sharply against this industry without any kind of public debate. This effort was aided by graphic YouTube videos showing water being lit on fire and what appeared to be bleak, barren industrial landscapes – a warning of the fate of New Brunswick if we were to allow natural gas development.
In a recent TEDx talk political scientist Ivan Krastev warned that protagonists in modern public policy debates have figured out it is far easier to sell your ideas by frightening people than by trying to engage in a fact-based debate. Or as the former provincial government Cabinet Minister, Aldéa Landry, told me recently in respect to the law - “If the facts are on your side, pound the facts. If the law is on your side, pound the law. Otherwise, pound the table”.
Instead of table pounding, I think we are finally starting to have a real debate about shale gas in New Brunswick and I am happy to see non-vested interest experts are bringing real knowledge to the conversation.
In the latest edition of the Journal of New Brunswick Studies, Adrian Park, a professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of New Brunswick has written probably the best summary I have seen to date about shale gas in the province.
Entitled “Shale Gas in New Brunswick: Promise, Threat, or Opportunity?” Park provides an excellent overview of unconventional natural gas production and the potential extent of the resource here in New Brunswick.
He also summarizes most of the concerns associated with developing the resource from methane leaks, the dangers of hydrofracturing fluids, earthquakes and even the risks associated with seismic exploration itself. He left out any mention of sexually transmitted diseases caused by shale gas.
He concludes with what appears to be a reasonable set of proposals that he believes would allow us to develop shale gas safely.
Strident opponents of the industry will dismiss this article but I think most New Brunswickers will appreciate the insight of a bonafide expert in New Brunswick’s geology.
It’s our natural gas. I have been clear in my view that we need to at least give it a chance. Our rural communities could use a boost and our province could use a new economic engine. We should be able to learn from the experiences elsewhere to build an effective regulatory regime here.
But I only come at the issue from an economic perspective and from my research as a layperson. What we really need are serious people who are knowledgeable about New Brunswick geology and the oil and gas sector to provide insight.
Next week I am visiting Texas to see for myself the impact of the shale gas industry. I will be visiting the epicenter of shale gas production to get a firsthand view of the impacts. If the area has become an industrial wasteland unfit for forestry and tourism, I will report back to you via this column.
David Campbell is an economic development consultant based in Moncton. He writes a daily blog, It’s the Economy Stupid, at www.davidwcampbell.com. His column appears every Wednesday and Saturday.