As former Quebec premier Jean Charest entreats New Brunswickers to step back, take a deep breath and, in an adult fashion, contemplate the shape of things to come in a province increasingly shy of economic options, local legislators are joyriding all the way to the political playground.
SWN Resources Canada’s vice president Jeff Sherrick sent a letter late last year to the premier’s office, advising it that the company was preparing to “suspend drilling plans and re-dedicate resources to projects in other jurisdictions.”
In other words, in the face of a government-enforced moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in the province, it has decided to pick up its toys and go home or, at least, elsewhere.
“Not knowing if or when the moratorium will be lifted makes it difficult for us to dedicate money to a project that may or may not go ahead in a given year,” Sherrick explained in the memo, a copy of which Opposition Tory Leader Bruce Fitch obtained through the right to information act.
In fact, SWN is not above playing its own games. According to a recent Telegraph-Journal story, “The gas company stated its desire to continue exploration in the province. (It) has requested a long-term extension of its licenses to search, which it said (in its letter) would provide ‘the stability needed to effectively plan and lessen the financial risks’.”
So, then, is it staying or going? Only Energy Minister Donald Arsenault, it seems, knows the answer as he alone holds the keys to the playground.
Still, when it comes to a vigorous round to “red rover” – of not, precisely, serious economic development planning – all are welcome.
Here’s Fitch on the subject of moratorium, as reported in the T-J: “The sad reality of the situation is that now, in the sixth month of this government’s mandate, the government members are more confused than ever as to what to do with this gas moratorium. . .They scramble to figure out how they can meet the conditions or excuses that they made up a few months ago while gas supplies dry up and companies pull up stakes and leave the province with their investment dollars and their jobs that would have been created here if the Liberals had not gone forward with their moratorium.”
Here’s Arsenault’s rebuttal: “The Opposition is all over the place. When it comes to shale gas and hydraulic fracturing, we have been very clear for two-and-a-half years. We will impose a moratorium in New Brunswick. Do you know why? It is because we care about what New Brunswickers have said all along. We care because we know that the royalty scheme is not maximizing the benefits for New Brunswick. We also care that the then government did not want to consult with First Nations. It is not only a moral responsibility, but it is also the law.”
Now here’s Charest on the subject at a business gathering in Moncton on Monday: “We want to see development of our natural resources. We want to see it done right, but we also see a lot of projects that are stuck and not moving ahead because we are not encouraging the right debate. Fracking in New Brunswick is an example of that. The challenge for us is to have a fact-based discussion on things like fracking, so that we can make a better decision on whether we want this industry to be part of our economy.”
Yeah, good luck with that. I believe there’s still more mud to sling in the political playground that is New Brunswick.