As the fracking world turns stomachs

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To emit or not to emit; that is the question – a reference, of course, not to the the vast amount of shale gas believed to be mercifully trapped in the ground of New Brunswick, but to the hot air issuing unmercifully and daily from Fredericton.

The deceptively simple ban on hydraulic fracturing in this province has become needlessly complicated ever since Brian Gallant sashayed into the premier’s office some months ago.

At the outset of the election campaign last spring, the matter seemed clear enough. Do five things, the surging Grits demanded of the shale gas industry:

Prove that you can make it safe; demonstrate that you won’t wreck roads and sewer systems; consult with First Nations communities before you break ground; ensure that everyone else in your exploration radii agrees with your plans; and adhere to tough, new regulations on your activities. Oh, and by the way, make darn sure that the taxpayers get a nice, juicy piece of the action.

Still, it’s never been clear that development companies want, or are even prepared, to rise to these standards – partly because many measures the provincial government imposes are hopelessly vague. How, for example, does the whole “social license” piece work in a jurisdiction that does not impose the same requirements on any other natural resource industry?

Meanwhile, the Province has just extended the exploration writs granted to SWN Resources Canada (potential fracker extraordinaire) even though that company’s ground-level executives have said – in letters to the Premiers Office and in public – that it would just as soon pull up its tent pegs and move on unless, of course, Premier “Gallanteer” reverses his position on banning the very means it proposes to make its bones in this neck of the woods.

As that’s not going to happen any time soon. Too much is at stake, politically, for a new government that promised to ride herd on industrial carpet-baggers and environmental poachers to recant its most successful election rhetoric.

No, as Energy Minister Donald Arsenault phrased it, quit revealingly, for the Telegraph-Journal earlier this week, “You don’t give an extension to a company who just wants to sit on a valuable piece of land. You still have to be committed to developing that piece of land – that’s usually how the (provincial) evaluation is made.”

On the other hand, he added, “Having said that, there are currently very extraordinary circumstances. . .It’s hard to show a program to develop the land when you’re not allowed to touch it with hydraulic fracturing. You have to be realistic. We know they (SWN) are committed, they would like to continue that work; however, they are not able to because of the conditions we set forth.”

So, then, why “give an extension to a company” who is forced to “sit on a valuable piece of land” only “because of the conditions we set forth?”

Ah, yes. . .so many soap operas in this province to peruse; so little quality downtime to watch.

Now, the official Tory Opposition weighs in with this absurd missive, issued this week: “The Liberal government’s ill-conceived policies have driven a $9-billion company out of New Brunswick, sending with them jobs for New Brunswickers at home and valuable investment dollars. This Liberal government refuses to accept responsibility for this disappointment, and have resorted to concealing the facts from the people of New Brunswick – but we deserve much better.”

We do, indeed.

We deserve clarity, coherence and political collaboration. We deserve solutions to common problems and humour instead of hubris.

To productively start, let’s first cap the gassy emissions from Freddy Beach.

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