Someone asked me this week if I had changed my mind about my support for the development of the natural gas industry in New Brunswick back in the 2007-2013 timeframe. He cited the low price of natural gas now and said that it would have ultimately led to substantially less royalties than I and others predicted when we started looking at the industry. He also suggested even if the industry had begun to pump gas back in the 2011-2013 timeframe that the firms would have abandoned further exploration here given the massive surpluses in the southern US, western Canada and elsewhere.
I’m actually not one to spend a lot of time on hypotheticals. That industry opportunity came and went. New Brunswickers didn’t want it and made that clear at the polls. Did they make the right decision? I still maintain the answer is no.
New Brunswick and the other Maritime provinces import hundreds of millions of dollars worth of natural gas each year from far flung places like Pennsylvania and Alberta. And, we will continue importing natural gas for 20-30 years and more to meet the demand of industry, businesses and households. There is not a lot of debate about this. When Enbridge NB negotiated its new deal with the provincial government (before selling to Liberty) it agreed on a 25 year + another 25 year agreement.
Further, I am reasonably sure we would be exporting LNG to Europe right now using New Brunswick natural gas. Yes I know the Germans aren’t big fans of fracking but if we could have shown them the environmental record here (which I believe would have been very strong) I think they would have taken our gas.
So it is reasonable – depending on how you define that word – that if SWN had finished up their exploration work by around 2010-2011 and if there had been no protests and disruption and if other things had fallen into place, SWN would have made a few hundred million in infrastructure investments before the structurally decline in gas prices that would likely have meant that it would have gone ahead with exploration and production in New Brunswick.
Yes the price would have been much lower than SWN would have liked but it would have had a fairly captive market in this region at least as shippers from Alberta and Pennsylvania would have had to pay the pipeline tolls along the way. And if the LNG export terminal had been constructed (who knows, Germany may not have needed to agree to that highly controversial pipeline from Russia), New Brunswick could have had by now a major new export industry.
There is no reason to revisit the past except to learn for the future.
New Brunswickers need to have open and honest conversations about our natural resources. The aquaculture industry is under pressure – there are those who would like to close it here and let Asian, South American and European countries bear the costs and benefits of that industry. There are others who would like us to dramatically reduce our forest products industry even as countries like Australia are ramping up as wood is a renewable resource compared to many other raw materials.
There are those who would like to stop any potential mining projects because they come with environmental risk. The federal government would like to see the country produce more of critical minerals needed to make our energy transition over the next few decades but some will say “anywhere but here”.
We could be promoting New Brunswick-based nuclear energy technology around the world. Our federal government could be leading the global push to replace baseload coal fired energy with new, safe nuclear energy. There are credible folks saying this is the only way to truly get off coal and fossil-fuel-based electricity by 2050. But this is New Brunswick and we have lots of voices against – and even sarcastically stating there is no way our nuclear energy could be competitive. Why don’t you just let this play out? Governments have poured hundreds of billions of dollars into renewable energy around the world.
New Brunswick could have had a modest natural gas industry here employing hundreds of people directly in the industry and supporting several thousand good paying jobs across the economy (or more). We could have had better prices and price stability for industry, businesses and residences. We may not have benefitted from hundreds of millions in royalty revenues but we would have benefitted from significant tax revenue from the high wage labour income and supply chain activity.
We said no to natural gas and moved on.
Let’s be a little more thoughtful and deliberate in the future.