Where you start has a lot to do with where you end up: More thoughts on nat gas

Reading a letter to the editor in the TJ reminded me of that old adage that where you end up has a lot to do with where you start.

Two or three years ago, most people didn’t even know that New Brunswick had a massive store of natural gas beneath our feet.  It was too costly to extract so no one even bothered to discuss it.

Then, when the technology became available that would allow commercially viable extraction, instead of a broad public conversation about the best way to use this wealth under our feet for the betterment of our society – we leaped right to a frenzied and deeply confrontational debate about the specifics of the natural gas extraction techniques.

That latter discussion should have been one for engineers and water experts and technology providers – somehow it became a topic for Tim Horton’s as is now the accepted term in the vernacular.

Of course any industry and any development is fair game for Tim Horton’s but I would have hoped the conversation could have been broader with the experts weighing in on the peculiarities of things most of us will never really understand.

By way of example, imagine if we had seen the same approach with any of our industries.  We would have no agriculture (too much risk of water contamination from agricultural runoff), no forestry, no fishing (still one of the most dangerous occupations around), no trucking, – not even call centres.  The NFB funded a UdeM documentary of call centres that portrayed them as sweatshops creating epidemics of carpal tunnel and mental illness.

And of course the politicians jumped right into the subterfuge feet first.  The New Brunswick Liberals know that there will be absolutely no large scale commercial production of natural gas (beyond Corridor which has been fracking for years) well beyond the next election.  They could have taken a wait and see attitude with zero risk to the public but the politics were too juicy and now we risk alienating investment into this sector for no reason beyond crass politics.  Of course, as many people view the world through partisan lenses, I feel compelled to reiterate I had the same feeling about the Tories and the sale of NB Power to Hydro-Quebec.  Many of them told me privately that the sale was good for NB but the politics forced them to take the stand they did.  In the end, politics is politics.

I don’t want to entice a long conversation about this except that it seems to me that if we viewed that gas as an true asset for New Brunswickers – after years of watching other provinces from Alberta to Saskatchewan to Newfoundland getting rich on oil and gas – now we have a little opportunity – and we seem to be eager to find ways to shut it down.  We should be eager to make it work and if it just can’t be done safely – then reluctantly shut down.

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2 Responses to Where you start has a lot to do with where you end up: More thoughts on nat gas

  1. 4themargins says:

    Hi David,

    I can only speak for myself on this. I happen to be an engineer who has worked in Natural Gas and I now happen to work with a bunch of geologists so I think it’s fair to say that my opinion is an educated one. I am for the responsible development of Shale Gas. I am for the responsible development of just about anything for that matter. I certainly appreciate that you are beating the drum for logical fact base discussion on this topic. However, my issue is that I don’t have much confidence that our government can get it done right. There are issues with shale gas development and they can be addressed responsibly but… And I know that criticizing the government in NB is as common as talking about the weather and probably just as useful. However, read yesterdays Telegraph Journal and you will see an article about Natural Resources Minister bruce Northrup reversing a decision he made two weeks ago over crown vs private wood. That decisions was not well researched, not well though through, and favoured a special interest group. Forestry has been around for hundreds of years and they can still screw it up because they think that they know best. This is the same guy who is suppose to deliver shale gas responsibly? I can’t seem to muster up much confidence in him. And I think it might be hard to argue against this. I am sure others can come up with more examples of this but this was a recent relevant one.

  2. mikel says:

    Agriculture runoff is by definition ‘run off’. It doesn’t contaminate well water, it contaminates SURFACE water, which almost nobody uses to drink (in rural areas, where the fracking goes on anyway). Heck, nobody even swims in the Saint John river!
    Forestry USED to have support because it provided a lot of jobs, something it no longer does and look at stories about crown land to notice that its support has dropped almost as fast as fracking. The only reason it hasn’t disappeared is that there are still SOME people working in it.

    And again, David always seems to forget that ALL these great new regulations and profit sharing and industry standards have come about-not because of engineers or experts, but because Tim Horton customers have protested. And actually we can even go back to the first round of regulatory changes which showed at least one protest group run by Beth Dykstra or something like that, immediately got on board the fracking train thanks to government sitting down with them.

    In short, nothing personal, but you have to be a real sucker to think that your government has your best interests at heart and is able to ‘protect’ or develop your resources-no matter how many engineers or experts it has. Go take a look at local municipal planning, usually it works in direct violation of every ‘expert’ recommendation that comes from an engineer. Again, go to the National Film Board website and watch the NB doc “Forbidden Forest”.

    If you need MORE evidence, take a look at what happened last year when a tester basically wrote off the local government and tested anyway, regardless of regulations, which were about as punitive as a five cent ticket.

    When the structure of government STARTS with the people who are ultimately affected-THEN you will see those kinds of idealized discussions mentioned here. Until then, look for confrontation, and thank god for that. Otherwise, well, what you’d get out of the natural gas industry is what you get out of Irvings LNG plant-nothing but a plant that employs fewer people than a large restaurant, and would leave you on the hook for damages. That, of course, is the meaning behind all the occupy protests, and government protests. That government needs to change and be, well, democratic. When it is, then we can all start singing koom by ya together with the massively wealthy corporate developers.

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