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.