To frack or not to frack

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Finally, there hovers on the horizon of New Brunswick’s energy future voices of reason.

The most compelling statements contained in the final report of the province’s Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing – appointed by Premier Gallant nearly a year ago – are these:

“New Brunswick’s economy needs to transition to a new economic and environmental reality: New Brunswick needs to generate more wealth. To do this, the private sector must accelerate its transition to a value-added resources and knowledge-based economy.

“Value-added industries rely primarily on technology, productivity and skilled labour to create products and services, often from natural resources, that are sold at premium prices. Energy can play a key role in getting us there, but only if we change how we think about it.

“New Brunswickers need to regard energy investments as part of the larger advanced technology story rather than simply as a commodity as we have done in the past. This will stimulate greater investment in energy technologies, particularly those that can help us transition to a more affordable, cleaner energy future. . . To meet existing regional and national climate change goals New Brunswick residents, businesses and governments will need to change the way we produce and consume energy.

“The Commission heard from individuals, companies and governments that are either ready to begin this transition to a low carbon society or want to accelerate what is already underway. Determining the role of natural gas in New Brunswick’s current and future energy mix is an important part of this conversation.”

Exactly, and I couldn’t have stated the case better.

We have to stop thinking about fossil fuels as cheap, seemingly endless resources we burn in our cars, homes, businesses, and industries for heat and light. Rather, we must begin to deploy them as means to a clean-energy future – the feedstock that powers new manufacturing technologies and processes, which ensure that environmentally neutral alternatives actually gain footholds in the commercial and popular imagination of this country, this region, these hometowns.

In this sense, in this respect, the Commission’s report is a rare call to action for a government-appointed body. It infers from the consultations it has conducted that most people are ready for productive, progressive change; it implies that only political and bureaucratic laziness is stopping what clearly should be the most important technological transformation since the western world’s Industrial Revolution.

It’s not alone. Robert Arthur Stayton, a university and college teacher and solar-energy advocate based in California recently blogged, “Is it a contradiction to burn fossil fuels to build renewable energy? The transition to a solar-based economy will require expending a great deal of energy to build solar and wind energy systems. Because our current energy systems are largely based on fossil fuels, this effort will add significant new usage of fossil fuels, and thereby increase our carbon emissions. Opponents of solar use this fact to say that we should not pursue renewable energy because that makes the climate problem worse. They have it exactly backwards.”

Instead, he contends, “Non-renewable fossil fuels should be considered as our means of getting to a sustainable renewable energy system. The finite cache of fossil fuels is our one shot for getting to an energy system that is essentially infinite in time (if maintained). Every kilowatt-hour expended building solar and wind equipment will yield many kilowatt-hours of clean energy over time. We should consider that to be the highest use of fossil fuel. . because it moves us toward our goal of a sustainable and clean energy system.”

Finally, voices of reason may prevail.

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