The absurd barn dance the New Brunswick government and the province’s gas exploration companies are performing would be mildly amusing to witness if it wasn’t so stubbornly frustrating to behold.
The Gallant government has been clear about its conditions for lifting its moratorium on hydraulic fracturing: A “social licence” must be obtained; reliable research about the practice’s environmental effects must be undertaken; a strategy to limit the impacts on infrastructure must be written; an approach for negotiating with First Nations communities must be devised; and a royalty regime must be developed to spread the wealth equitably.
Fair enough. So, let’s get on with it.
But, no. Industry and Government are still curtseying and do-si-doing while New Brunswick’s economy – and all of its pent-up capacity – waits for this maddening hoofing to finally end.
Now, the Province finds itself in the broadly untenable position of pondering license extensions to established exploration companies, who have signed agreements to frack, only to avoid any legal repercussions that may stem from industry’s desire to sue its institutional arse in court for, in effect, revoking those agreements.
But will Government consider reversing its election promise (a moratorium on fracking), a move that would settle the conundrum once and for all, in return for closer public-private sector collaboration on all outstanding issues associated with shale-gas extraction?
Not on your life.
In fact, Energy Minister Donald Arsenault is adamant that he can dance quite well, even with his feet tied together.
To the Telegraph-Journal he declared the other day, “Despite what the (Tory) opposition is saying, SWN is not ready to run away from New Brunswick. I am not saying that they are in total agreement with a moratorium, of course not. . .But the fact that they requested an extension tells me that they are still interested in New Brunswick.”
On the other hand, he demurred, “I am not obligated to extend it (SWN Resources Canada’s license in New Brunswick). I have the authority to do it; it doesn’t mean that I have to do it.”
That’s what Frick says. What sayeth Frack?
Corridor Resources, the other major player in the provinces, is somewhat more loquacious on than subject than its competitor SWN, which refuses to respond to media interview requests.
Says Corridor CEO Steve Moran: “We have made application with government to. . .extend those leases for all the time the moratorium is in effect.”
What’s more, he says, “We pay them (Government) rental payments for our leases, but we also pay them royalties. We’re still paying them royalties on the producing wells. I don’t see why we should be paying them rental for lands that in essence are stymied.”
Frankly, neither do I.
Nor do I think that any of this even remotely serves the principle of informed consent in a province as evidently concerned about its democratic rights as is New Brunswick – let alone the long-term economic stability that necessarily girds such expectations.
Meanwhile, Moran warns darkly of the day when domestic supplies of natural gas will become scarce, forcing up the price charged to business and residential consumers.
In that eventuality, Arsenault counters, we’ll simply pull in more of the stuff from Pennsylvania where (guess what, boys and girls?) fracking is legal.
So it’s okay to import gas, fracked from another jurisdiction at a premium; but it’s not to deploy a similar technology to produce a cheaper supply here at home.
Is it any wonder this province’s economy is on the skids.
Then again, we do love to dance with ourselves – in the dark.