It’s not every day that environmental activists and economic development advocates enter into a win/lose battle as it seems to be the case with shale gas gas. If you consider other natural resources – forests, agriculture, fish, even other minerals – most environmentalists advocate a certain type of exploitation but are not calling for an outright ban. I guess that is the most perplexing part of the whole process. As I mentioned previously a group of top environmentalists in Pennsylvania wrote a report that started with the premise that shale gas would be an important economic driver for that state and then went on to advocate for very strict rules around its development.
In New Brunswick, groups like the Conservation Council make no such admission that shale gas will be an important economic driver. Economics, it seems, doesn’t matter – or at least is peripheral.
When SWN ceased drilling citing ‘safety concerns’, the Conservation Council tweeted with unmitigated glee that this was a great day for New Brunswick and New Brunswickers. For me, the Council would have far more credibility on this if their position would be as follows:
This is a bittersweet day for New Brunswickers. We firmly believe that shale gas drilling at this time is not the right thing to do. At the same time we realize there could be a significant economic loss from not developing the industry. For the hundreds, ultimately, thousands of people that would have been employed directly and indirectly, we will need to work doubly hard to attract other kinds of development to the province – otherwise these people will be force to move out of New Brunswick and, ironically for us, many will end up working in the oil sands and the oil and gas industry in Saskatchewan and British Columbia.
For the millions in lost revenue to the government, we also advocate for economic development in other areas and for tax rises and spending cuts to ensure the province is fiscally sustainable. In the future, when we are satisfied that the environmental risks will be minimal we will support shale gas drilling in New Brunswick.
You will never see this position from the Council because, for them, that is not the point. They are leading the fight against – and any nuance would – in their mind – eat into their position.
The problem is that most people – including myself – are not on the fringes – we are in the middle and see the world in a pragmatic way. Most of us see the oil and gas industry supporting economies all over North America and and the world (i.e. the North Sea) and would be excited if it could happen here. Most of us also watch movies like Gasland and read media reports and wonder if shale gas is as dangerous as we are being told by some.
I still keep contrasting this in my mind with the Costco on a wetland in Fredericton. That was a spirited battle where environmentalists were adamant about the outcome but the huge difference was simple – there was almost no economic impact either way.
We cannot debate shale gas as if it was economically neutral – like Costco building on a wetland.