After I spoke on CBC Info Morning last week about shale gas development in New Brunswick I got a few emails – a couple in agreement with my view and a couple opposed. One guy from Nova Scotia sent me a long response taking issue with my position and reiterating a lot of the views about the process of fracking and why it should be disallowed in New Brunswick (and presumably Nova Scotia). Because he had put time into that email, I spent a little time thinking about a response.
But the truth is that I really can’t debate the science. I doubt 99.9% of us really can. We can get worked up by terms, labels, etc. but in the end, there are a number of government and industry websites that provide the counterpoint and that suggest hydro-fracking – under the proper controls and oversight – is not much more dangerous than other forms of gas extraction. But I really am not confident debating the science. I know from many other controversial debates in this province – notably NB Power’s sale to Hydro-Quebec – that there is no point trying to change the minds of folks adamantly for or against an issue. The focus is always on those folks in the middle.
As an economic development advocate – someone who believes deeply that New Brunswick needs new sources of economic activity and tax revenue – if someone was trying to change my mind on this, they would have to show me why shale gas extraction should be disallowed here while allowed mostly everywhere it is being developed across North America. There are a few exceptions but from western Canada and up and down the eastern seaboard, hydro-fracking is the principal way that new sources of nat gas are being exploited.
President Obama talks about natural gas – the new sources from shale – as a key transitional fuel in his energy strategy. The U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts that shale gas extraction will grow strongly in the coming years to the point that there is talk about exporting natural gas from the U.S. – an unthinkable proposition just a few years ago.
So if there is going to be shale gas exploration – the question for me is why not here?
If there was a Canadian or North America-wide moratorium because the science overwhelmingly said we should stop – I would say fine. But the central question for me is why should a province that desperately needs new economic activity – exclude shale gas while numerous areas are not.
It is possible that western Canada will extract more natural gas and the federal government will transfer some of that new wealth down here to pay for our public services but, just for once, I’d like us to focus on generating our own tax revenue.
I’ll end with this. I had a conversation last week with an older fellow that lives in Elgin. He told me the gas development firm had his water tested for him before the exploration began and would be back to test again after to ensure no problems with his water. He went on to tell me that many of his friends have water purifiers and have bad water from agricultural runoff. I thought this was interesting. Not many people want to ban agriculture in New Brunswick.
This guy was very sensible and pragmatic about it. He said we should definitely move ahead with shale gas development. I suspect given the hype, his view is a minority position right now.
For some reason we seem to be quick to worry about environmental issues but breeze over economic issues without a second thought.