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NB youth need options to stay home

August 27th, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

I’m going to start publishing my TJ columns here a few days after they run in the physical paper.    Here is the one from Saturday:

 

A few weeks ago three young men from a small town in New Brunswick bid farewell to their families, got in their pickup truck and set out for Alberta. They didn’t have a job waiting for them.

They just expected to find good-paying jobs after a long ride in the truck.

I thought about those three guys when I saw the Twitterverse light up Thursday with images showing hundreds of people lined up for a job fair in Fredericton hosted by oil and gas firms from Alberta. According to media reports, more than 1,000 people showed up to get a crack at high-paying oil and gas jobs out West.

You can’t help but see irony all over New Brunswick these days.

North Dakota oil – most likely extracted using hydraulic fracturing – is being brought in by rail to be processed in New Brunswick’s oil refinery while two of New Brunswick’s three main political parties are falling over themselves to try and stop our nascent natural gas development industry in its tracks.

While our sons and daughters line up to leave for the oil and gas industry elsewhere, some of New Brunswick’s most visible mayors are serving up tasty but ultimately hollow quotes such as “our water is more important than gas” and making grand statements during council meetings about protecting New Brunswickers.

Apparently watching our kids leave to frack elsewhere doesn’t bother them much.

Who can blame our young people for wanting to leave?

The unemployment rate among those 15 to 19 in New Brunswick is over 21 per cent. At nearly 15 per cent, New Brunswick also has the dubious distinction of having the second-highest unemployment rate among the 10 Canadian provinces in the 20-to-24 age group.

What we really need from our politicians, local mayors, community leaders, academics and anyone else who cares about New Brunswick is to spend less time demonizing one of our greatest natural resources (70+ trillion cubic feet of natural gas) and more time trying to figure out how get it out of the ground.

If we can’t get it out – for either commercial or environmental reasons – it should be considered a great tragedy, not a cause for celebration.

A delegation of Quebec farmers recently went to Alberta to see how natural gas extraction using hydraulic fracturing is done alongside the agriculture industry.

Maybe one of our mayors should lead a delegation of concerned New Brunswick citizens on the same pilgrimage. That would be far more helpful than one-line zingers on prime-time Monday night Rogers TV.

Some of the most respected environmental groups in the United States are – albeit grudgingly – providing their view as to the best conditions for developing the shale gas industry.

They have realized their time is best spent trying to ensure effective regulations and environmental safeguards rather than trying to bring the industry down. That’s a helpful role.

Of course the oil and gas industry will not be a panacea for New Brunswick. If we are serious about fostering prosperity here, this industry is one piece of the puzzle. I am told it could provide a steady flow of high-value economic activity for 50 to 60 years.

But the broader issue is whether or not – deep down in our collective soul – we really even care about economic development. We give it lip service, but after generations of New Brunswickers goin’ down the road, I think most of us are just resigned to the fact.

One colleague recently told me that all three of his kids left. “Look on the bright side,” he told me, “at least now I have some interesting places to visit.”

For me, that’s not good enough.

I want our kids to have the choice – stay or leave – but you decide. For far too many young New Brunswickers there isn’t any option.

David Campbell is an economic development consultant based in Moncton. He writes a daily blog, It’s the Economy Stupid, at www.davidwcampbell.com.His column appears every Wednesday and Saturday.

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  1. Debbi Knopp
    August 27th, 2012 at 20:10 | #1

    I can’t see any of my four kids (one is already in Japan) staying here. About the only jobs here in NB are minimum wage. My husband even works overseas…

  2. mikel
    August 28th, 2012 at 09:11 | #2

    This is really a non starter. The companies aren’t even TESTING for natural gas in NB-not because of environmental groups or because two of three political parties say bad things about it.

    They aren’t bothering because they say it isn’t economically feasible. Since its not economically feasible, what you are suggesting is that the government subsidize them. As for oil, come on, if it was down there, they’d be pumping it. They only thing easier to sell people than promises of natural resource wealth is false hope-usually the same thing.

    Go and ask how many of those young people know how to program in even just Actionscript. Ask how many know ANYTHING about how to start a company. In the CBC article it was quite telling because they talked to a few of these people, and almost unanimous was “I’ll take any kind of manual labour job”. In short, these people have no idea how to use their BRAINS (to make money). Every person like this is symptomatic of a failed educational system. But no doubt Alward would say, like he said of the lineups and the tobacco investments: “that isn’t something I can do anything about”.

    I’ll grant that education is a lot more expensive than when I went to school-although truthfully, technology is easier learned online nowadays than in colleges anyway-but when I couldn’t find a job, I created one. We didn’t have many technology jobs back then, but work is work.

    Economic development is hard work because it involves people-so far the people are not involved in NB-which is why it doesn’t work. Promises of ‘maybe money, maybe gas’ are dubious when the companies themselves are not even bothering. Now, if you are backing my earlier idea, where I said the government itself should boot out Enbridge, build its own terminal, and hire people to do the testing and regulate it, thats something else. But again, right now its NOT the government that is the problem-the low price of gas means the companies themselves aren’t even bothering to look for it. So you might as well talk about how the Mayors are not talking about digging for gold.

    And finally, as for work, there is quite an interesting phenom going on in Ontario nowadays. Many northern communities are being somewhat rejuvinated by….mennonites. On the other side of the lake a guy was getting a porch done by a mennonite crew because here in northern towns, there are no other choices. Farms are springing up all over, and produce is now available where grocery stores were once closed. Even towns that have no grocery store still have their Rona, because mennonites buy so many building supplies. The lesson there is you never know where ED is going to come from, but staking it on promises of resource wealth where no companies will even test for it seems like a non starter.

  3. David Thomas
    August 28th, 2012 at 10:09 | #3

    With natural gas prices being as low as they are where is the point in exploiting shale gas in the province now? With new fracking chemicals being nearly new (within the last four years) there are many environmental unknowns – to exploit a resource that is currently in surplus in North America. Were prices to rise, or a significant global investor to come in to NB to convert natural gas to vehicle fuels (Shell’s GTL for example) then it would certainly be worthy of consideration.

    The attraction of the oilfields have created their own problems in Alberta, with pressure their workforce, rising house-prices pricing many those in AB not in oil or its supporting industry out of the housing market.

    There is no denying that youth unemployment is an issue here in NB. The APEC report lays out some of the issues quite clearly. Yet is throwing all our eggs into the Shale Gas basket the best way to go? Will it produce a diversified, robust economy with opportunities for all skill/education levels? Or will we see further work force and wage pressure for tractor trailer drivers and fabricators?

  4. August 28th, 2012 at 14:36 | #4

    Having a referendum on whether or not to allow fracking is not the way to go. Leadership means just that: look at the facts and choose. If the NB Liberals offer only a referendum as policy they won’t get my vote.

  5. mikel
    August 28th, 2012 at 17:52 | #5

    A referendum is virtually the ONLY democratic way to proceed, and many of these problems would be long over had that been the status quo. Notice that virtually EVERY party is talking about a ‘moratorium’. They are NOT saying ‘lets never dig for gas’. The liberals are smart in that they are also calling for a referendum on a moratorium for TESTING. Thats because, as said before, there IS no testing going on anyway. There is some extraction, but under that moratorium that would still continue.

    Its absurd to talk about ‘leadership’ since this is one of the main reasons people don’t vote. There are DOZENS of important issues, and this can’t be rationalized with a vote for one of two parties. Had there been a referendum, then like VLT’s, for better or worse, the issue would be out of the public. VLT’s were always a hot button issue, with most polls saying half of NBers didn’t want the machines AT ALL in the province. Yet since the referendum, which was even a pretty crooked affair, the issue is gone.

  6. Tony
    August 29th, 2012 at 00:07 | #6

    If Mikel’s point was true, there would be ZERO fracking going on in Alberta. And we all know that’s not true. Alberta gas companies are strategically getting positioned for when prices improve (whenever that happens).
    As for David Thomas’ point that the attraction of the oil fields has created its problems in Alberta, I’d rather have Alberta’s problems than New Brunswick’s. And I am sure I am not the only one who thinks this way.

  7. mikel
    August 29th, 2012 at 08:07 | #7

    Not sure which point Tony is talking about, the companies themselves have SAID that they are not testing for gas, but rather for oil, and they SAID it was because gas prices were so low. That’s not me saying that, so unless you want to call the company liars, thems the facts.

    In Alberta they KNOW where the gas is-they are pumping RIGHT NOW. They are not ‘strategically positioning’ themselves,they are pumping gas. The government approved over 4000 fracking projects last year and have allotted millions of gallons of water for that purpose. In New Brunswick, in case you missed it, its incredibly expensive just to do testing just to find the stuff. So far the only people who have touted the huge gas fields under New Brunswick has been the one company that has been actively seeking a partner. There was ONE independant test done, but the whole ‘we think this much gas is down there’ is based on an extrapolation from, I think it was, only THREE successful tests. That’s like saying your house is sitting on a nickel field all because you found three nickels on your lawn.

    Again, thats not ME saying that-the main company in NB lost its only partner in testing because that company said its not worthwhile. Its’ pretty telling that in NB the ONLY new license granted was to Windsor. Now, say what you what about THAT issue, but the government no doubt would have LOVED to have a different company come in-but none are interested.

    Again, thats not MY opinion, its the opinion of the industry. NB is a dirt poor province, IF companies wanted to ‘strategically position’ themselves, it would be relatively cheap to do. Only one has done so, and it can’t even afford to do the tests to FIND the gas, it simply holds leases on huge tracts of land.

    As for David Thomas’ point, NB ALREADY has ALberta’s problems, all thanks to the forestry industry, and now it has almost zero to show for it. But its a valid point-it SHOULD come down to how many New Brunswickers are like Tony, and how many are like David Thomas. It shouldn’t be up to a desperate government that shows no interest in actually developing the economy, and it shouldn’t be up to small environmental groups to dictate to the rest of the province. We accept that a ‘majority vote’ is good enough to decide who makes all our political decisions, it should be good enough to decide issues that affect all New Brunswickers.

    But like I said, if you want to be ‘strategic’ I can get on board. The jobless rate is pretty high in NB, so the government could invest itself in the testing, hire regulators and workers to do the testing, then they’d be in a strategic position. Also, they could partner with NBPower to use the natural gas right there in New Brunswick so its not that important what the rates are everywhere else-we KNOW that they are horrifically expensive in NB.

    But the government has no interest in doing that, in fact it still hasn’t even hired regulators who know anything about the industry. THAT says something about the priorities of the government, so like I said, it perfectly explains WHY people are so opposed. If YOU want to know why you SHOULD be more concerned, here’s the NFB site where you can watch ‘Forbidden forest’ for free.

    http://www.nfb.ca/film/forbidden_forest

  8. Richard Reeleder
    August 29th, 2012 at 08:22 | #8

    “Some of the most respected environmental groups in the United States ………have realized their time is best spent trying to ensure effective regulations and environmental safeguards rather than trying to bring the industry down. That’s a helpful role.”

    The fact is that the shale gas reserves in NB will be extracted eventually; referenda and moratoria won’t stop that from happening. The delays now are more about price than opposition.

    A referendum, while allowing some to mount the white horse of populist outrage, will not stop that developemnt. Regardless of a referendum result, if NB continues on its current downward economic spiral, we will be so desperate for jobs and tax revenue in a decade that any opposition or referednum results will be ignored.

    Those opposed to shale gas for environmental reasons would be better advised to :
    1) follow the example David refers to above and work on regulatory and mitigation policies rather than a ban. The latter is a waste of energy and may simply make proper regulation and mitigation policies impossible to develop.
    2) work with those who want to develop other employment sectors in the province. More jobs reduces the pressure to extract the gas at any price.

  9. mikel
    August 29th, 2012 at 11:32 | #9

    Now THAT is hardly true. There MAY be huge natural gas reserves under the Alps in Switzerland-do we hear from the european press how ‘eventually the banking system will peter out’ and the Swiss will HAVE to dig for gas?

    A referendum would of course do what its intended-either decide for or against an issue. In Maine they have been having referenda for DECADES on whether to allow video lottery terminals, and it continues to lose, and there continues to be no VLT’s in Maine. And it is hardly a wealthy state.

    An antennae always goes up when I hear people give advice to how others should behave. The above also is a HUGE public policy mistake. Again, the Alward government had lousy regulations and lousy profit sharing programs with few royalties. It was the protest, it was NOT David Campbell and all the people saying ‘lets work on regulatory policies’, that MADE the regulatory framework into something that would at least have some benefit to the province. It was the PROTEST that accomplished what ED people weren’t even LOOKING at.

    I’ve said numerous times about the ‘other employment sectors’ in the province, and the reality is, IF the province had FULL employment ‘in other sectors’-why would it be a necessity that it have to extract the gas AT ALL?

  10. Tony
    August 29th, 2012 at 17:17 | #10

    @mikel
    “In Alberta they KNOW where the gas is-they are pumping RIGHT NOW.”
    It’s not that simple at all. There is a lot of exploration happening in Alberta today (just ask the Canadian Association of Geophysical Contractors).
    My experience with the oil and gas industry in Western Canada tells me that the sector puts a big price on political and business stability. It will be hard for NB to get any player with deep pockets interested in exploration until the provincial government has made it clear (in words and facts) that it welcomes investment in the province. Why would any company bother in investing in exploration if there is no guarantee that it will be allowed to get the thing out of the ground and sell it?

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