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.