A moratorium that’s missing in action

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Something has put the swagger back into Steve Moran’s step. The CEO of Corridor Resources is pulling his best impression of Mad Magazine’s mascot, Alfred E. Neuman, these days. What, him fret?

“We’re a little bit worried about the short term, but over the long term, no, we’re not as concerned,” he told the Telegraph-Journal last week, regarding the New Brunswick government’s decision to slap a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in shale gas development.

“We think government officials understand the potential of the resource here and we think that once they feel they have addressed their issues in terms of health and safety that they will come around and that we’ll be back to work. . .We are confident that, over time, we will work our way through this moratorium.”

All of which raises an interesting question: What moratorium would that be?

The new Liberal government of Brian Gallant has been threatening to level a temporary ban on fracking since long before their election win.

Indeed, it’s not too hyperbolic to say that more words have been expended on the potential perils to human health of hydraulic fracturing than there has been gas extracted from the ground.

Here’s the new premier on the subject two weeks ago: “We believe there should be a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing due to the lack of information concerning the risks to our environment, our health, and our water. I think it’s important for people to know what we’re concerned about – it’s the process of extraction called hydraulic fracturing.”

Now, here’s Energy Minister Donald Arseneault just last week at the New Brunswick Exploration, Mining and Petroleum conference: “We have a clear mandate from the people and a very consistent message over the last two years that we want a moratorium on the shale gas industry. We had a clear mandate on election day to move forward on that and that’s what we are going to bring forward in the near future.”

Again, when, exactly, would that be?

In reality, it is not at all clear that the Liberals have received a “clear mandate from the people” on this issue. Some surveys conducted before, during and after the election campaign indicated that the public in this province is deeply divided on hydraulic fracturing. If anything, the edge seems to go to the pro-gas lobby as long as the industry can provide credible, verifiable assurances about its safety practices and environmental stewardship.

Neither is it clear that Messrs. Gallant and Arseneault are singing the same tune, let alone from the same song sheet.

There’s a big difference between slapping a ban on the shale gas industry, as Mr. Arseneault is mumbling about doing, and carefully parsing the distinction between hydraulic fracturing and other methods of resource extraction, as Premier Gallant is wont to do.

One definitively slams the door; the other leaves it open just a crack.

Of course, in this parade of mixed messages, Mr. Aresneault has been a marvelous band leader.

On the tricky position into which any sort of moratorium would put Corridor Resources and its gas customer Potash Corp., the minister weaved for the Telegraph-Journal earlier this month:

“The last thing we want to do is potentially put certain operations in jeopardy. For me, PotashCorp is a major player in New Brunswick. It’s a concern for me. It doesn’t mean that it gives everybody a green light, but it’s definitely in the back of my mind that I’ve got to be conscious and responsible going forward.”

As to the fate of PotashCorp’s new Picadilly mine without ready supplies of fracked natural gas, Mr. Arseneault said, “Those are the questions we are going to be asking the company. If we didn’t impose a moratorium, what is the activity they have planned for the next couple of years? Having a moratorium, how will it impact their operation? Will it impact potash? We haven’t settled on a specific menu other than we know there will be a moratorium.”

But, I wonder if that’s even certain anymore.

Indeed, Steve Moran, is there something you’re not telling us?

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