Injecting reason into the fracking debate

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For academic geologists, who study the world’s reserves of oil and gas, which have slumbered beneath the surface for millions of years, time is a meaningless concept. For public officials, embroiled in the politics of petroleum development, it’s the only thing that matters. Or it should be.

One of the broad and exquisite ironies (and there are many) about the gathering controversy over shale gas in New Brunswick is that the provincial government has only just figured this out.

For months, if not years, elected representatives of the Tory persuasion have ceded nearly all of the high ground in the battle to win the hearts and minds of the great, voting unwashed to the Internet-mining, documentary-viewing, anti-fracking, fossil-fuel-loathing constituency.

At times, Premier David Alward’s cabineteers have seemed downright flummoxed by the vehemence of opposition to shale gas development in the province. After all, they said as they scratched their scalps, as we don’t yet know whether there is an actual industry to despise, shouldn’t we identify its true, commercial potential before we lose our collective minds to inchoate outrage?

But, of course, such musings are not how you win a revolution. Environmental and community activists know well the first rule of effective civil action: Don’t wait for your enemy to set the agenda.

This is especially important in circumstances where your enemy has more money than God. If and when shale gas companies actually do fire up their production platforms, no amount of peaceful – if vitriolic – protest will ever shut them down. Only economics can achieve this. Hence, the marvelously orchestrated fury.

Lately, though, the Province has stepped up its game in defence of what it might term the prudent development of shale gas in New Brunswick. In two, surprisingly articulate, commentaries carried by the Times & Transcript’s sister organ, the Telegraph-Journal, Energy and Mines Minister Craig Leonard sets out his case. First, he says in so many words, “We can’t afford to do nothing,” before he declares, “We will ensure we can enjoy the economic benefits. . .while proceeding in a safe, responsible and sustainable manner.”

Of these, the strongest argument is the latter and, again, one wonders why it’s taken this long to make it this cogently.

At the heart of the opposition to shale gas is the conviction that hydraulic fracturing is inherently injurious to the environment and, by extension, to communities proximate to drilling operations. To support the claim, critics produce a virtual trove of information, gleaned from the Web, that clearly demonstrate just how fully industry players have desecrated whole regions of the United States with faint regard for their responsibilities, above those that secure shareholder values.

Some of the “proof” is spurious; some of it is persuasive. (Valid or not, it’s hard to counter a homeowner’s assertion that he abandoned the family farm because his once healthy child began coughing blood only after the nearby rig started drilling).

And yet the massive hole in this argument, through which no one in public office (until now) has seen fit to drive a rhetorical truck, is that New Brunswick’s opportunity lies before it. The province has a chance to do things better and more safely. It is not tethered to shoddy regulations and “industry-friendly” arrangements. It starts with a clean slate. Or, as Mr. Leonard, writes: “We designed the new rules for industry to ensure issues with the industry faced by other jurisdiction will not occur here.

“Whether it is requiring that all fluids used in the gas extraction process are kept in a closed loop system to ensure no contact with the land, the constant monitoring of air and water or improved construction of the wellbore, our rules will protect the land, water and air.”

The other piece is that no two shale plays are exactly alike. The experiences of one region are not reliably transferrable to another simply because we invoke the word “fracking” – like some, dark incantation – to describe industrial activity in both.

Mr. Leonard’s arguments will not convince everyone, of course. But they are, at least, useful contributions to what should be an informed, public debate. And, for once,  they are timely.

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3 thoughts on “Injecting reason into the fracking debate

  1. John Russell says:

    Bruce are you a Journalist or a `Public Relations practitioner?

    “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.” — George Orwell”

    THE KINDS OF PEOPLE WHO READ THE PAPER

    “… Generally, readers of the Press can be classified into three groups:
     
    First, those who believe everything they read;
     
    Second, those who no longer believe anything;
     
    Third, those who critically examine what they read and form their judgments accordingly.
     
    Numerically, the first group is by far the strongest, being composed of the broad masses of the people. Intellectually, it forms the simplest portion of the nation. It cannot be classified according to occupation but only into grades of intelligence. Under this category come all those who have not been born to think for themselves or who have not learnt to do so and who, partly through incompetence and partly through ignorance, believe everything that is set before them in print. To these we must add that type of lazy individual who, although capable of thinking for himself out of sheer laziness gratefully absorbs everything that others had thought over, modestly believing this to have been thoroughly done. The influence which the Press has on all these people is therefore enormous; for after all they constitute the broad masses of a nation. But, somehow they are not in a position or are not willing personally to sift what is being served up to them; so that their whole attitude towards daily problems is almost solely the result of extraneous influence. All this can be advantageous where public enlightenment is of a serious and truthful character, but great harm is done when scoundrels and liars take a hand at this work.
     
    The second group is numerically smaller, being partly composed of those who were formerly in the first group and after a series of bitter disappointments are now prepared to believe nothing of what they see in print. They hate all newspapers. Either they do not read them at all or they become exceptionally annoyed at their contents, which they hold to be nothing but a congeries of lies and misstatements. These people are difficult to handle; for they will always be skeptical of the truth. Consequently, they are useless for any form of positive work.
     
    The third group is easily the smallest, being composed of real intellectuals whom natural aptitude and education have taught to think for themselves and who in all things try to form their own judgments, while at the same time carefully sifting what they read. They will not read any newspaper without using their own intelligence to collaborate with that of the writer and naturally this does not set writers an easy task. Journalists appreciate this type of reader only with a certain amount of reservation.
     
    Hence the trash that newspapers are capable of serving up is of little danger much less of importance to the members of the third group of readers. In the majority of cases these readers have learnt to regard every journalist as fundamentally a rogue who sometimes speaks the truth. Most unfortunately, the value of these readers lies in their intelligence and not in their numerical strength, an unhappy state of affairs in a period where wisdom counts for nothing and majorities for everything. Nowadays when the voting papers of the masses are the deciding factor; the decision lies in the hands of the numerically strongest group; that is to say the first group, the crowd of simpletons and the credulous.”

    This was written by a man from Germany, who used his understanding of human nature, to create quite a stir in the World, for a while, all the stir and chaos he he caused is just a memory now, still, had he pumped millions of gallons of toxic chemicals into the Earth, his legacy would still be poisoning the World just like Chernobyl is now!

    Most after the fact musings here, are written for the third group mentioned above, yet this time it is the first group who oppose their betters, hopefully such courage will shame the dissemblers onto the righteous path, who knows really, perhaps this madness IS stoppable!
     
    I wouldn’t blame you if you joined the public relations team, that is where the money, and the people with money are, perhaps someone with a monetary interest in this is as unbiased in their opinions as you say, we all love money, still people who get paid to convince us of something should always be viewed with a bit of skepticism, people promise things which are not in their power to deliver! Remember that; just because someone promises you Peace, Prosperity, Health and clean water, it doesn’t mean they can deliver on that promise! Still,,, if you lose the well you may get a sincere apology and the explanation; i’m very sorry, it wasn’t supposed to be like that, this is something we didn’t anticipate,,,, Feel better now?

    As was said above ; ‘where public enlightenment is of a serious and truthful character, but great harm is done when scoundrels and liars take a hand at this work”. That is not to denigrate anyone, but what do our media experts truly know about the subjects, they present themselves as experts on? They claim expertise in so many subjects, perhaps they just read the script! and how much of what they think they know is false, Remember; Once it happens there is no reversing the effects, the poison is in the ground for ever!

    My last point; Quoting E. F. Engdhal, “Huge shale gas losses”

    Given the abnormally rapid well decline rates and low recovery inefficiencies, it is little wonder that once the euphoria subsided, shale gas producers found themselves sitting on a financial time-bomb and began selling assets to unwary investors as fast as possible.

    In a very recent analysis of the actual results of several years of shale gas extraction in the USA as well as the huge and high-cost Canadian Tar Sands oil, David Hughes notes, “Shale gas production has grown explosively to account for nearly 40 percent of US natural gas production. Nevertheless, production has been on a plateau since December 2011; 80 percent of shale gas production comes from five plays, several of which are in decline. The very high decline rates of shale gas wells require continuous inputs of capital—estimated at $42 billion per year to drill more than 7,000 wells—in order to maintain production. In comparison, the value of shale gas produced in 2012 was just $32.5 billion.”[xxv
    These are the kind of figures you won’t find in the script being read to the public, perhaps this is good enough for us! What percentage of the $10 Billion loss will be New Brunswick’s profits? What percentage will we contribute to next years losses?

    This is the reality New Brunswickers need to be informed of!

  2. brucescribe says:

    Thanks for your comment, John.

    To be clear, I am an independent voice, not paid in any way by the dreaded industry you decry. I am not paid, in fact, by BNI to say anything, except what I think. So, you can be sure that what you read from me is straight and honest.

    I think much of what you say has merit. Keep it up.

  3. John Russell says:

    “We designed the new rules for industry to ensure issues with the industry faced by other jurisdiction will not occur here.

    “Whether it is requiring that all fluids used in the gas extraction process are kept in a closed loop system to ensure no contact with the land, the constant monitoring of air and water or improved construction of the wellbore, our rules will protect the land, water and air.”

    What idiocy this is, the very idea of fracking is to pump more or less, 40 thousand cubic feet of Fracking fluid into the ground, and “Fracture” the rock, of course the fluid is in contact with the earth, perhaps he means; we designed the new rules for industry to ensure ussues the industry faced with other jurisdictions will not occur here, We are a Fracking friendly jurisdiction.

    “The other piece is that no two shale plays are exactly alike. The experiences of one region are not reliably transferrable to another simply because we invoke the word “fracking” – like some, dark incantation – to describe industrial activity in both”

    We don’t invoke the word “Fracking” as an incantation, we invoke the word “Fracking” as a descriptor for the practice of pumping large quantities of .`Toxic` liquids into the ground with the hope that some gas will come up, unlikely enough gas to pay for the well, never enough to pay the ongoing long term damage this practice has caused many innocent people!

    The dissemblers are out in force on this issue, why really? if I know it is all smoke and mirrors, surely they must know it too! So what is the agenda really? Over to you Bruce, as Charlie Chan might have said; explanation if possible please, Honorable Scribe.

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