The silence of the lambs

I’m probably breaking a dozen copyright laws but I thought this article in the Sackville Tribune was worth the risk.   The author is Bonnie Swift, the director of economic development at the town of Sackville.  In the footnote, you will see she paid to put the column in the paper.

Anyway, she has a background in the oil and gas industry so I guess that taints her for some and gives her credibility with others.

For me, it was just a rational – demystified – view of the issue.

I was talking to someone last week who saw polling of NBers from before Christmas that shows the vast majority of them are opposed to shale gas development.

I continue to be baffled by that.

If someone from Cornell came to New Brunswick and put on a presentation about the perils of the forestry industry and talked about how cutting trees too close to rivers and streams would lead to a higher risk of water contamination – so we should put a full moratorium on all development – would the ‘vast majority’ of New Brunswickers agree?   I don’t think so.  We (New Brunswickers) would want government to build into the regulatory framework assurances that cutting would not happen too close to rivers and brooks.  The same goes with the protection of wildlife and a host of other issues that we care about.

So how come when it comes to natural gas, we allow ourselves to get so worked up?

I have no idea where this will end up.  I suspect that at the current price of gas, there will likely not be much drilling either way in the near future.

It would seem to me that if the vast majority of NBers are still deeply opposed by the time of the next election, the government would be very tempted to pull the plug.

My main point on this today.  I am very surprised at the lack of interest in this industry from a host of intermediaries that should be interested.  Very interested.

Where are the Enterprise agencies on this issue?   As far as I know there has been almost no commentary at all.  Even other economic development agencies.  Hardly a peep.  No talk about building the supply chain in New Brunswick.  No talk about using the proceeds to reinvest in rural NB. Nothing.

Where are the Chambers of Commerce?  Surely an industry that could bring thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in revenue to New Brunswick should be a cause for Chambers?  I haven’t seen a thing.  Not even a ‘qualified’ thing such as “if the government yada yada yada”.

Where is the CFIB?   The oil and gas industry is the lifeblood for thousands of small businesses in Saskatchewan and Alberta.  Nada.

Where are the mayors?   I realize public opinion got out front of them on this one but it is still strange to me that at a time when rural New Brunswick needs growth industries – the rural (and urban) mayors are silent on this. I think this is a big mistake.  The mayors should be front and centre demanding the industry be properly regulated and monitored and working to ensure much of the economic benefit flows back into their communities.  Instead, nothing.

Are we so paralyzed now – at every level – from business groups to local government – that a campaign to shut down one of the more promising industries in North America – can zipper the mouths of every single group that the public looks to for insight?

This shouldn’t be the provincial government’s fight.  Public opinion will not be swayed that far by a government press release or speech.  The government needs to ensure a strong regulatory environment (like all natural resources), effective monitoring and enforcement and work to ensure that the province receives broad benefits from exploiting this resource.   But if every single organization in society is either against or silent on this issue – we never have a proper conversation.  I even heard – this is incredible – that one of the province’s universities was debating coming out as an institution against shale gas development.  I think that must have been an exaggeration on someone’s part.

All of those with an interest in the province’s economic development have a duty to speak up and be part of dialogue.  Even if they come out against the industry and are clear about their reasons, every one will at least know where they stand.

It’s a big mystery to me.

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13 Responses to The silence of the lambs

  1. Aman Dutt says:

    People hear what they want to hear and believe what they want to believe. A majority of Canadians in Eastern Canada and Atlantic Canada have been spoon fed the belief that oil is bad and their is no other way to look at it.

    On the other hand what if the question asked in the polling was, something like this:

    Shale gas production will increase the tax revenues, cut the deficit and produce a surplus that will eliminate $9.6-$10.0 billion debt in 10 years and the resident will get a proportionate tax cut every year, will this notion enshrined in law, make you support Shale Gas production?

    If, now again a big If this was the question or something like it, then the result may have been very different.

    Thank you

    Aman Dutt
    President, Tvasta Solutions Inc.

    “There is a solution to every problem, you just have to ask the right question”

  2. Please note that Bonnie resigned from her position as Economic Director and is now a private sector consultant. Also note that the article was a paid advertisement, not an editorial. I agree that too many agencies are quiet on the issue, though Sackville is having a community meeting this evening at 7:30 at the Civic Centre.

    There are many environmental concerns about unconventional hydrofracturing (not to confused with conventional) and also concerns about the newer methods of “super-fracking”. Concerns include water & air pollution; habitat damage; earthquakes and greenhouse gas emissions. The economic upside is not all positive, as counties in Pennsylvania have found. This is a complex issue, with incomplete science, weak regulation and market speculation fuelling a potentially toxic mix.

  3. Richard Quigley says:

    One wonders if perhaps they are intimidated by the “Big Environment” movement.

  4. Gary Rent says:

    David’s comments are dead on for this subject. We the majority have let the vested groups take control of the agenda. We have seen the structure of these groups, older folks most on pensions –government and kicking the problem debt, deficit and payback down the road for our kids to worry about. If other parts of Canada are smart enough to manage this resource I am pretty darn sure we New Brunswickers can do just as well

  5. graham watt says:

    Shale gas exploration is suffering from the “ghastlies”. The ghastlies appear when
    out-of-town dudes arrive with the promise of riches, verdant pastures and bucolic
    vistas untouched. These local people, over the past 200 years or so, have much experience
    recognizing horseshit when they see it, agriculturally, and hear it politically. The
    problem is the underlying slickness of the shale message, the patronizing tone, the
    soft southern drawls and the slightly too large cuff links shot from the suit cuffs.
    Ms. Swift’s note that she paid for the ad herself begs the question, was this an objective
    view or just another industry promo? Ghastly.

  6. rupertpenjab says:

    Like a welfare recipient, 5 days before “cheque day”, scrambling for something to pawn, our government is looking to cash in ANYTHING they can. Let us not forget who owns that gas, yes, we own that gas, New Brunswickers, why are we in a hurry to sell it? Shale gas, lives in the ground, some pretty nasty stuff seems to be required to get it out, but it isn’t about to go bad, or dissipate, if left there. How about we leave it there for, say, 25 years? It’s not exactly like we need it, last time I checked there was no shortage of gas? Tell me it won’t appreciate in value?

  7. Richard Reeleder says:

    “Tell me it won’t appreciate in value?”

    Of course it will appreciate in value. So will conventional oil & gas reserves. Does that mean extraction of those reserves should stop until, at some point in the future, that value appreciates to a certain amount? Fortunately for equalization-receiving NB, Albertans do not feel that way.

    We are not just talking here about reducing the deficit or debt. We are talking about generating enough economic growth to get the province moving forward instead of sliding backward. If you have some practical suggestions as to how that can be achieved, then let’s hear them. NB has few opportunities right now, and shale gas is one of them, like it or not.

  8. Will says:

    Bonnie was not paid by the oil gas industry or influenced in any way, which Harold implies here. She has a knowledgeable background and wanted to put out factual information, unlike people that promote fear mongering. @Harold Jarche

  9. Will says:

    She paid because it was so long an article they couldn’t put it in the regular columns. She quit the Town and has no income coming in from any oil/gas industry. She didn’t write it to get a job in the oil/gas industry either. She wanted to get factual information out, so when you can’t argue the facts you can try to attack the author’s credibility, which is a common fallacious argument known as Ad Hominem cicumstantial fallacy. @graham watt

  10. Bonnie Swift says:

    I expected Harold would put in his 2 cents but I did not quit the town to become a private sector consultant. I am a business consultant and I no longer consult to any industry. It wasn’t an advertisement it was the unbiased facts. However, I expected an attempt to discredit me. However, what people don’t know is that every environmental engineer who is worth anything and has practiced in the west has to have vast knowledge of this oil and gas sector because it was the biggest sector in the western provinces and as such it required the most environmental regulation. However, my clients were also very diverse they ranged from native groups, private land owners, and municipal governments, the province and the oil and gas sector itself. With such a vast range of people that I served, unlike the ant fracing groups I could not show bias I could only tell my clients the truth. See as an engineer we are sworn to the facts it is part of our oath to our engineering society. Unlike a private citizen I cannot exaggerate the safety or reduce the risk. There was no agenda because I no longer consult to this industry it was information I thought people should have to make an educated decisions. We also take an oath to educate the public on matters of engineering practices and that is what I have done. Bonnie Swift

  11. Bonnie Swift says:

    Oh I should also mention my new firm INNOVA8 Tech Consultants only consults to engineering firms and technical based firms that are developing green energy technologies and other renewable sources of energy. As I also believe that for the long-term fossil fuels are not the answer, they are finite, so I have decided to actually do something to help us move to a greener future.

  12. To be clear, and I won’t comment further & clutter up David’s feed, I never said that Will’s wife, Bonnie, works for the oil & gas industry. Bonnie is a consultant in the private sector, as I am also.

    I wanted it to be clear that the Town of Sackville, by motion of council, has definitively banned all hydrofracturing activities within its jurisdiction. Bonnie does not represent the town and neither do I. I respect her right to her professional opinions.

  13. Richard Reeleder says:

    “the Town of Sackville, by motion of council, has definitively banned all hydrofracturing activities within its jurisdiction.”

    Shale gas is one of the few bright spots that can bring new revenue into NB. If Sackville wants to have nothing to do with it, fine. Let’s say the gas reserves are NOT developed and, in the absence of alternative new revenues, budgets have to be cut across the province. I guess the good citizens of Sackville will be ok if NB decides we can no longer afford Mount Allison.

    Yes, folks, there are consequences to decisions.

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