What the frack?

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.

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3 Responses to What the frack?

  1. mikel says:

    Keep in mind that for a lot of people the ‘status quo’ is quite fine. And they are right. I crunched the numbers years ago, and calculating what it costs to educate workers who then go to Alberta, and the costs of those who return and retire, then you can EASILY argue that New Brunswick deserves much MORE equalization.
    If you research Arkansas, you can see the impact of this ‘industry’. The state is now saying they have to increase royalties because they got royally screwed. Their roads are a shambles, and the companies themselves have now voluntarily put money into road work.
    So in New Brunswick, what you are looking at is yet another short term blue collar industry which will cause extensive damage, and which it is up to politicians to determine the benefits. And NOBODY trusts politicians. Not to mention that most people think that ‘more benefits’ simply means more government bailouts of crooked companies, and more illegal pensions.
    So I can easily see both sides of the debate. However, natural resource extraction jobs are basically lousy jobs. They are the kind of jobs where the government has simply said “look, we can’t educate you, so we’ll get you to drive a truck or hold a stop sign”. It’s a failure of government policy.
    I’ve said this at the CBC and Irving sites, and I’ll mention it here. Here in Waterloo RIM is putting up about ten new buildings. This is for a company based on wireless technology whose main product is a glorified pager. The area is known for insurance jobs and three universities. All arguments against RIM aside (and the fact that there is a growing underclass here as well whose job it is to drive trucks and hold stop signs), the question remains as to the ‘environmental impact’ of research and technology jobs, educational jobs, and insurance jobs.
    Meanwhile, most of the ‘pro’ fracking people have variants of the same arguments-NB NEEDS the money, and OTHER people are doing it. It’s when people NEED the money most when they are most likely to bend the rules to get it, and OTHER people are also removing mountaintops, filling in lakes with poison, and violently overthrowing governments. That’s not really a reason to do something.
    This is one of the better comments at CBC:

    “According to Apache resources own data, one ‘frac job” requires 4,000 cubic meteres of water (4,000,000 litres) and each well will be fracked 5 times. With a potential development of 480 wells, let’s do the math.

    480 wells x 5 fracks each x 4,000,000 litres per frac
    = 2,400,000,000 litres of contaminated water

    That’s 2.4 BILLION litres of clean potable water converted to 2.4 billion litres of contaminated water, or 2.4 million cubic metres of contaminated water. Given an olympic sized swimming pool holds 2,500 cubic metres, that means 960 olympic sized pools of toxic sludge.

    Also, contrary to industry talking points, very little of this toxic water is recycled. Each well requires 8000 – 330,000kg of chemicals which include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; methanol; formaldehyde; ethylene glycol; glycol ethers; hydrochloric acid; sodium hydroxide; and diesel fuel, which contains benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene, naphthalene and other chemicals.

    That’s millions of kgs of chemicals being forced into the environment. TEDX has documented health effects of chemicals used in 435 fracturing products to include effects on eye and sensory organs, reproductive, respiratory, gastrointestinal, and brain and nervous system function.”

    And if you REALLY trust the government to do ‘proper oversight’, you should really go to Kent County and ask the people there about the hog factory farms and pools of toxic sludge they left when the company finally packed up and left. PS: I know a LOT of people who have been consistently fighting the agricultural industry, so if a main ‘pro’ point is “farming is already wrecking your water”, I’d keep that on the QT.

  2. richard says:

    ” Not many people want to ban agriculture in New Brunswick.”

    I expect that many residents of LSDs are opposed to fracking, despite the likelihood that the construction of their and their neighbor’s residences had adverse effects on wetlands. But since they refer to those wetlands as ‘swamps’, hey, no harm done. Economic development and population growth will mean a certain amount of environmental impact; the goal should be to limit the adverse effects as much as possible.

    People seem to want some guarantees that there will be no adverse impacts from hydrofracking and gas extraction. Even with tough regulation and enforcement, there are going to be impacts on someone’s water. Its a question as to what benefits will accrue to NB given those impacts.

    I’d like to see even a hint of a strategy from GNB with regard to how they would like to see the extraction proceed, and how we can get maximum value from this resource. NB’s track record in achieving that value is not so great. GNB seems to be more focussed now on countering public opinion against gas extraction, rather than talking about how the resource should be developed to maximize the benefits to NBers. We need to get more from this than royalities and a few drill rig jobs.

  3. Kate says:

    I heard you on CBC and you’re very diplomatic! As was Mr Alexander. Mr Northrup does not inspire confidence and Ms Merrill is perhaps a tad too left. I am the person in the middle. I have been reading various academic papers that are for and against. I’m not an engineer so most of it is in laymen terms or I’ve queried engineers to translate for me. I’m fond of the provinces pristine natural resources and vistas that draw tourists from all over the world, but I’m also a supporter of a strong sustainable economy. I don’t buy into fear mongering but neither do I swallow everything fed to me by government and corporate.
    Yes there are concerns around the exploration and extraction and they should be thoroughly responded to prior to be given a green light.
    Fugitive gas, failure of the cement casings, pollution from the diesel engines during operation, failure of waste water ponds and so on. This technology is pioneered by Halliburton and that alone should make us cautious!
    There are also the unanswered questions around the millions of gallons of freshwater required for both fracturing and extraction. The new appearance of earthquakes allegedly a result of the seismic disturbance from the fracturing.
    Until now, I have not heard/read anything on a risk benefit analysis nor has there been definitive numbers as to how much the revenue to NB will be. There seems to be a great deal of guess and the numbers are attractively high. But as we love to say in business “based on what?”
    Further, and we have seen this discussed here a few times, what, if any is the long term strategic plan/vision/outlook is in place for NB? Because if it is to continue with tourism (and in my mind retirement) and less “drive through” and more stop ‘n’ stay is this an industry we want to encourage?
    As to quoting Obama and reference to natural gas being a “bridging fuel” between oil and renewable resources, this is still a dirty fuel that contributes to climate change and pollution as much and in some ways more than oil.
    We live on the Bay of Fundy! the strongest and highest tides in the world that could provide enough energy into the next millennium and beyond. It would seem to me that investment in R&D and that potential as well as more wind and solar development makes sense.
    This however may create other issues for the US and their auto industry? their oil barons? their insatiable appetite for unlimited and cheap fuel.
    Hopefully when we do make the final decision on the best path, we won’t have to go to our children with yet another apology.

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