Shale gas semantics

I haven’t written much lately on shale gas for a number of reasons including 1), I am fatigued with the subject and 2) I am disheartened with the quality of the debate.

But I will say this.  Words matter.  Maybe they always do but it seems much more acute here.  ‘Fracking’ itself is a pejorative term and defines the discussion in its very use.  The early polling in New Brunswick asked people what they think about ‘natural gas exploration’ and they were fairly positive but they viscerally disliked the term ‘fracking’ compared to hydraulic fracturing.

I had them same feeling this morning when I read John Chillibeck’s well written piece in the TJ.  However, he slipped a sentence in that illustrates my point perfectly:

New Brunswick is blessed – or cursed, depending on the viewpoint – with shale deposits between 360 million and 300 million years old that likely hold natural gas that could be worth large sums of money.

On the surface, of course, that is a relatively  innocuous statement but it really goes to the heart of the problem.  The natural gas is worth hundreds of billions of dollars so semantically I can’t see how ‘cursed’ is appropriate here.   The value of the shale gas should be self-evident.  The challenge of extracting it is a whole other matter but to suggest – even cheekily – that we could be cursed with hundreds of billions of dollars worth of gas is pretty close to saying you are cursed with hundreds of billions of dollars worth of gold or silver under your feet.

It would be strange for someone to say “New Brunswick is blessed – or cursed, depending on the viewpoint – with gold deposits that could be worth large sums of money.”

But that’s our debate.  Lot’s of tiptoeing through the tulips.  Even the experts – the geologist cited in the article – didn’t want to say whether he was ‘for’ or ‘against’ shale gas development but went on to say “If it’s properly regulated and if those regulations are enforced, then I suspect the balance is more benefit than risk.”  Semantics.  Being able to remain neutral and supportive at the same time.

That’s the pretzel lots of experts seem to be twisting themselves into these days.

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4 Responses to Shale gas semantics

  1. richard says:

    Two phrases heard recently:

    – from those opposed to shale gas; ‘risk of semi-permanent damage’

    – from energy industry; ‘no evidence of permanent damage’

    ‘Semi-permanent’ has no meaning, and the ‘no evidence …’ phrase is also meaningless since there will never be evidence of permanent damage.

    If the govt want to move forward with this, then it needs to re-start things re trust. Perhaps by having Alward use less industry-friendly language, by turning the rules into regs, and by having govt officials admit that govt’s role in the Penobsquis affair was deplorable and won’t happen again. They need to make it clear that they have the people’s back.

  2. mikel says:

    Your pretzelling is pretty proficient as well – we don’t actually see here whether YOU are ‘for or against’, but long time readers know.

    His pretzelling is a lot less accomplished. For those who share the bloggers view, I’ll add this-Nigeria has some of the largest oil deposits in the African continent. It also has amongst the highest political corruption and violence (recently) as well as the most extreme poverty. And much of that is BECAUSE of the interest in that wealth. So just because you HAVE natural resources means little. New Brunswick has gas and oil and forests and fishes and mines and minerals, and agriculture. Yet STILL can’t even support a population of only three quarters of a million dollars.

    Ask the people of Penobsquis how much benefit they saw. After a decade of fighting their own government they gave up, many moved away. The only beneficiaries were those who have a well on their own property, which they essentially were coerced into doing because New Brunswick law says that IF a developer wants access to your land you either give it, or they go to the government which will enforce a court settlement on you.

    So that pretty much rubs out any kind of argument about whether the gold under your feet will really benefit you. In fact, if you don’t WORK in the potash industry even that industry is so far doing nothing for most people as there is a royalty holiday in place. So much for all that ‘cash for your gold’.

    As for semantics and the debate, just go to facebook and have a look. I’ve looked at most of the ‘debate’ sites, which are few, because the ‘pro’ fracking sites won’t even ALLOW negative comments, whereas the ‘anti’ groups will just shout people down. However, at one site which was designed specifically for debate, by far the arguments against fracking are more scientific, researched, and logical. The pro fracking comments by far consist of posters who simply insult the opposing side and tell them they are hypocrites because they drive cars. THAT is what the ‘debate’ sounds like.

    But the red herring here is IF its properly regulated and enforced. THAT is something that one side refused to believe is happening, while the other side simply assumes its a given-and we KNOW which are right in that camp. New Brunswick never published a SINGLE air monitoring survey done in Penobsquis during the entire years it has been operated. Even though the clean air act requires HOURLY monitoring. The government has even gone so far as to not make public its own findings from the Mining Commission. The group from Penobsquis wanted a copy but the government actually put a price tag on it so that they couldn’t afford it.

    And of course most importantly, the new ‘rules for industry’ are NOT legislation or even regulations. They are simply ‘permit conditions’ which have no financial penalties attached. Meanwhile, just in the testing phase we have discovered that shot holes have been dug in wetlands-and the ‘rules for industry’ clearly state that if water is discovered in a shot hole then the government must be notified-which means a LOT of notifications in a wetland (or more likely just ignoring of the ‘rules’).

    So absolutely, words matter and lets not beat around the bush. The reality is that as the evidence from south of the border continues to grow, we now know that MOST, if not ALL of the long held beliefs of the industry are mistaken. Virtually EVERYBODY agrees that ‘strong regulation and enforcement’ is a requirement, and New Brunswick has NEITHER. So again, now that all the gas being pumped in New Brunswick isn’t even contributing a single penny in royalties because of gas prices, its pretty hard to compare that with gold. Although given NB’s history with royalty payments, it wouldn’t be surprising that a gold mine ended up contributing very little. I just read an article where JRR Tolkien’s family tried to sue the movie company and it turned out that all three of those Lord of the Rings movies somehow managed to not make ANY money.

    So whether its a blessing or a curse DOES sound like a relevant question. If you don’t think so, just ask some of the people from Nigeria or from Penobsquis.

  3. Michael Booth says:

    When the arguments for and against hydro fracking started in NB, three Professors from UNB shared their knowledge with the public. The consensus from that trio suggested that Natural gas can be safely extracted using a fracking process with some type of gas and not water and 1000 chemicals. How come we have not heard more on this from either side? This will certainly become a hot election issue and as one writer stated, until the government proposals actually become enforceable regulations with defined penalties, and that there are real benefits to the people of NB, then the chance for majority public support would seem unattainable. We have used up billions of dollars in natural resources in the past and as he said, we are unable to look after 3/4 of a million people adequately. All the players in this debate need to do a much better job.

  4. mikel says:

    Those profs can’t be TOO knowledgeable. Propane was used by Corridor for its last fracks, however, gas can only be used for certain geologies. One of the reason the moratorium was suggested was because thanks to protest the technology is changing extremely fast. I read somewhere that they were even using MILK as fracking fluid.

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