Category Archives: Environment

Bridge over troubled waters

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Monctonians, God bless them, sometimes forget their uncanny ability to embrace several municipal development opportunities and simultaneously push for support from higher levels of government.

After all, even provincial and federal office holders occasionally remember how to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Liberal MP for Beausejour Dominic LeBlanc – who is also government house leader – managed to raise both hopes and eyebrows the other week when he indicated that Ottawa is completing plans to replace part of the causeway that connects Moncton and Riverview with a bridge.

According to a Moncton Times & Transcript report, “LeBlanc notes that the bridge project, that would allow a freer flow of the Petitcodiac River, has been underway for more than a decade. An ongoing environmental impact assessment analyzing the effects of the permanent opening of the causeway gates started in 2004. The gates were opened so that scientists could study the effect of the partial restoration of the tidal flow of the river in anticipation of some day taking out part of the causeway and building a bridge.”

Said Mr. LeBlanc in an interview: “The province has spent $55 million or $60 million doing a lot of the work to prepare for the removal of the causeway and the installation of a bridge. . .The exciting piece that will capture the public imagination is to restore the full tidal flow to the river. That’s something I was working on when Mr. (Jean) Chretien was prime minister 12 years ago. That’s the piece that, for me, is unfinished.”

Some have interpreted Mr. LeBlanc’s comments to mean that, for now, a much-needed, $90-million upgrade to the municipal sewage treatment system might have to proceed without federal government help. But David Muir, chairman of the Greater Moncton Wastewater Commission, thinks the refurbishment should be the first order of business. So does Riverview Mayor Ann Seamans.

Noted Mr. Muir: “Certainly we’d like to see all MPs support our project as the number one priority.” Added Ms. Seamans: “The deadline of 2020 (for the upgrade) makes the (plant) project foremost. It’s the federal government which imposed that.”

For his part, Mr. LeBlanc hasn’t ruled out providing funding for both causeway and treatment projects. “We’re going to spend a lot of money on green infrastructure, and I know the sewage commission project is very expensive,” he said last week. “It is also needed, and that will be looked at in the context of these other projects. In the normal course of infrastructure investments, the sewage commission project should be looked at as well.”

Still, he says, he doesn’t think the two capital developments “have to be linked.”

Actually, they do or, at least, should be.

In reality, the federal government is both morally and legally obliged to support both projects. Indeed, from a practical standpoint, it doesn’t make much sense to proceed with one without the other.

A freer-flowing Petitcodiac River fulfills the intent of sections of both the Fisheries and Environment Acts, which seek to protect marine habitats and secure ecological integrity – especially where human agency has caused, or threatens to cause, harm. So does, it could be reasonably argued, a waterway that’s absent of pollution.

The issue, now, should be logistical, not financial.

If both projects are, in fact, designed to improve the health of natural and human environments, what steps are necessary to properly coordinate their execution? The last thing this tri-city area need are the unintended consequences of siloed development along a contiguous waterway.

Coordination might even save some money.

How’s that for walking and chewing gum?

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Fracking, we hardly knew ye

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It was fun while it lasted, but the people have spoken. So have New Brunswick’s all-but-departed, hydraulic-fracturing development and production companies. Now, we can declare it: Dear fracking, rest in peace.

You were the bad boy of the oil and gas industry in these parts. With your exploitation of sedimentary rock, your hidebound determination to squeeze every last drop of fossil fuel from the ground, your propensity for threatening supplies of drinking water, and your potential for causing the odd, situational earthquake, you were Marlon Brando or James Dean to our Julie Andrews or Jean Simmons. We, you and I, were never matches made in economic heaven, after all.

Even a rebel with a cause needs a willing audience to survive. Without this, casual affection – let alone love – fades, withers and eventually dies.

That happened a few weeks ago, when a special commission of the provincial government sent down its report, declaring that elected officials had but two options: proceed with building an environmentally responsible industry around tight plays of onshore reserves of natural gas, or forget the whole thing.

Through its silence on the issue, the Brian Gallant government has chosen Door No. 2, though this hasn’t prevented the province’s energy minister, Don Arseneault from jamming his foot in the stoop for what’s likely to be one last time. “At the end of the day,” he told Brunswick News Inc. last week, “there’s still a lot of work to be done.

“Even if I lifted the (provincial government’s standing) moratorium (on hydraulic fracturing) tomorrow, there’s still not going to be any fracking because no one from industry or the municipalities has stepped up to give us a plan on how to treat wastewater. So a lot of things are unresolved.”

Well, not really. As Jim Emberger of the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Alliance noted, not unreasonably, last week, “It’s hard to fathom a case for shale gas in (this province). It is an industry that is shedding jobs by the thousands. How will it bring jobs here? It is an industry that has seen dozens of bankruptcies and is in debt up to its neck. Who will be making major investments in those companies, many of (which) may not survive the next year due record low prices (for oil and gas) and record high debt?”

This, of course, doesn’t stop the diminishing, increasingly marginalized cohort of shale gas’s die-hard fans from praying for a comeback in New Brunswick. Says Colleen Mitchell, president of the Atlantica Centre for Energy: “Since the (provincial) commission released its report, we haven’t seen any action taken towards lifting the (government) moratorium.”

Nor shall we, I warrant. Still, Ms. Mitchell persists, “We want to get a number of groups together, stakeholders, to indicate that there is strong support for lifting the economic situation (in New Brunswick) and having the (shale-gas) companies still interested in exploring for natural gas onshore continue.”

Still, who are those companies? SWN and Corridor Resources? Where, exactly, is the “strong support” for this industry in New Brunswick? For four years or more, we’ve had a chance to weigh the pros and cons at the expense – in time, money and distraction – of considering other, durable means of rebuilding the provincial economy consensually. During this time, we have failed to make any significant progress beyond occasionally mitigating the toothache of useless ideological debate.

Fracking in New Brunswick had its pale moment in the sun. The sun has now set. It’s time to move on and consider all the other options for economic development. Dear fracking, RIP.

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Between a rock and a hard place

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I’m not much for easy metaphors, but it’s hard not to read some broader meaning into the recent collapse of one of New Brunswick’s iconic Flowerpot Rocks along the Bay of Fundy, home to the world’s highest tides, which ebb and flow much like. . .well, the provincial economy.

Methinks, I’m not the only one of my professional ilk in danger of spraining a back muscle making that stretch. Otherwise, why would an entirely predictable event, the product of natural erosion, garner the press attention it has.

From the Chronicle-Herald to the Toronto Sun to the Globe and Mail to the Huffington Post to the nation’s public broadcaster, mourning for the dearly departed Elephant Rock (named so because it resembles, or used to, an oversized pachyderm) has commenced in earnest.

“Formed by the world’s highest tides in the Bay of Fundy, the Flowerpot Rocks – as they are also known – have been carved out of the cliffs in the area by time, tide, and wind,” reported the CBC.

“The (Fundy) park’s website explains that the formations aren’t ever 100 per cent safe ‘but are even more dangerous this time of year. This is a particularly volatile time for the rock as spring temperatures rise and the nights stay cold.’

“Elephant Rock is featured on New Brunswick’s Medicare card. ‘It’s certainly sad and humbling to see us lose one of our named formations, or at least lose its identity, but it’s also very exciting,’ said Kevin Snair, supervisor of interpretive services. ‘The whole park is formed by this exact action that happened, so to be able to see that that is still happening, and the park is still evolving, it’s a beautiful thing, despite the loss.’

“The park is reminding people to come visit over the summer, as there will still be lots to see. Elephant Rock is one of 17 standing formations at Hopewell (i.e. Flowerpot) Rocks.”

The collapse may be sad, as Mr. Snair observes, but is it actually humbling? (Only, I suppose, if you were standing anywhere near the thing when it fell over).

In fact, the event might be just what the economic doctor ordered. According to a New Brunswick government report, “Tourism is critical to (the province’s culture, heritage, arts, recreation, and entertainment industries, and it also contributes significantly to (the province’s) service industries, including transportation and travelling services, accommodations, and food and beverage services. These industries comprise the tourism sector.

“In 2012, 30,220 employees worked in the tourism sector, representing 8.6 per cent of New Brunswick’s labour force. Across New Brunswick, there were 2,929 tourism sector business locations in 2012. Visits in the province of New Brunswick in 2012 contributed an estimated $1.1 billion in tourism-related spending on accommodations, restaurants, shopping, travel, and travel activities. Non-resident visitor spending was estimated at $543 million in 2012. The total impact of this visitor spending on provincial GDP has been estimated at $696 million, representing 2.4 per cent of provincial GDP. This estimated tourism share of provincial GDP ranks with the primary industries of agriculture, forestry, and fishing.”

Indeed, images of the Flowerpot Rocks grace the covers of virtually every promotional brochure the provincial government publishes, and have for decades. (I distinctly recall seeing a glossy brag, some years ago, on New Brunswick’s call-centre industry. There, on the centre spread, was a picture of the now-diminished Elephant Rock. How’s that for a subliminal plug for the province’s burgeoning technology sector?)

In any case, now that the famous column has been diminished, may we expect precisely the opposite result for tourism?

Juggling the balls of climate change

 

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New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant’s determination to be on the right side of history may be one of the signature features of his term in office.

And, why not?

Political leaders far older than he struggle daily to balance the competing and often conflicting demands and expectations of the people they represent. It is only the hubris of youth that convinces such jugglers that they, above all others, can keep all the balls in the air and, so, astonish and mollify a disparate and peevish crowd of voters.

Sometimes, it works just fine.

Former U.S. President John F. Kennedy (elected at age 44) had his Camelot and moonshots, his Peace Corps.

Current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (elected at age 44) has his clean-technology agenda and climate-change avowals, which he hopes will bring this nation closer to its true identity as an advocate for green sensibilities the world over.

Again, why not?

The problem, of course, is reality. It pulls and pushes, warps and wrinkles even the noblest aspirations. In the public sphere, fear and alarm masquerade as legitimate, dissenting voices. Paid lobbyists practice their smooth alchemy; industry associations exert their influence; and poorly educated citizen groups caterwaul from the sidelines of relevance.

The result is almost always inevitable: The political juggler drops the balls; bold, youthful aspirations fall to the ground; and the status quo remains intact.

I can’t confirm that this is happening in New Brunswick, but I will say that we’re getting there.

Fresh off the plane from Vancouver, where he met with his provincial counterparts and the prime minister, Mr. Gallant now vows he will “consider” pricing carbon in the province. As the Saint John Telegraph-Journal reported recently, the premier is “now listing a hike in the gas tax among an ‘array’ of carbon-pricing mechanisms the province could choose in efforts to strengthen its role in a pan-Canadian climate change plan.”

But, if Mr. Gallant was ever serious about ameliorating the effects of global warming in New Brunswick – and aligning himself to federal priorities on this issue – why was his campaign for office scrupulously devoid of such considerations? Why was his most recent provincial budget largely silent on these matters?

The province’s Climate Change Action Plan 2014-2020 offers little explanation.

“In New Brunswick, the impacts of climate change have already begun to appear,” it reminds us. “Temperatures are rising, high-intensity precipitation events are becoming more common, sea levels are rising and inland and coastal areas are experiencing greater rates of erosion and more frequent flooding. In other words, New Brunswick’s ‘normal’ weather is no longer what it used to be, and more change is anticipated in the future.”

As for “visions, principles and goals”, the report has this to say: “The actions put forward in New Brunswick’s Climate Change Action Plan 2014-2020 recognize that: Decisions must be based on reliable and accurate information; decisions must consider the implications of long-term climate predictions and their anticipated impacts on future generations; and that all New Brunswickers share the responsibility of responding to climate change and should therefore be informed and engaged.”

No kidding Sherlock. We know this. The only reason why this province has not embraced a truly effective policy to battle climate change has to do with competing interests that constantly agitate for keeping the province’s economy tethered to the past.

If Mr. Gallant and his crew are serious about transforming this small corner of the world, he and they will have to cross over the line into the right side of history, where no political jugglers need apply.

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Food inglorious food

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When my forebears, fresh off the boat from Scotland, settled in the vicinity of Guysborough, N.S., on that province’s far eastern shore, they new a little something about everything that was crucial to survival in the late 18th Century.

They could wield an axe, build a house, milk a cow and, maybe most importantly, till, sow and reap the soil – which was saying something given that the ground was, and still is, 80 per cent boulders.

I am often struck by the sheer number of things we’ve forgotten how to do; how much practical knowledge has leached away over the centuries, decades, even scant years. I was skippering my own sailboat alone when I was 11. I’m not sure I could do that today – not, at least, without a refresher course in knot tying and dead reckoning.

Still, the one ancient task my wife and I have been determined to reintroduce to our small branch of the family is that of growing stuff to eat safely and well. We would call this ‘farming’, except we actually know a few farmers and, let us assure you, we’re no farmers.

We do, however, maintain a small south-facing plot in our Moncton backyard where, in the spring, summer and a good portion of the fall we grow potatoes in rotation, carrots, peas, beans, broccoli. Out front, we cultivate tomatoes and peppers.

None of this will be especially surprising to anyone who lives and works in and around a small city in Canada. Private and community gardens are springing up like efficacious weeds almost everywhere you go, and the trend continues to grow. I suspect there are good reasons for this.

Late last year, just in time for Christmas, the CBC reported on research from the University of Guelph’s Food Institute that estimated, “the average Canadian household spent an additional $325 on food (in 2015). On top of that, consumers should expect an additional annual increase of about $345 in 2016.

“Since 81 per cent of all vegetables and fruit consumed in Canada are imported, they are highly vulnerable to currency fluctuations. They are pegged to increase in price by four to 4.5 per cent in the new year. ‘It means that essentially families will have to spend more without many options, unfortunately,’ says Sylvain Charlebois, lead author of the university’s sixth annual Food Price Report.

Other organizations contend that food prices cannot be untethered to murky global forces that human civilization has, fairly recently, unleashed upon the world. Says Oxfam Canada’s website: “Droughts, floods and storms have played havoc with harvests over the past few years, and climate scientists predict the problem is only going to get worse. Some experts feel that the financial crisis that swept the world beginning in 2008 also had an impact on food prices. Investing in the rising price of food seemed to make it a safe bet.”

Finally, “crops that once were used for food are now used to make what is known as “biofuel, primarily ethanol and biodiesel. A full 40 per cent of the corn crop in the United States, and a similar percentage in Canada, now ends up in cars instead of stomachs.”

Whatever are the reasons for the escalating cost of food, the most prudent response, it seems to me, is to grow as much of your own stuff as you can (organically, naturally).

My wife and I might even double-down on the arable land we tend this year. After all, the old Guysborough homestead is good for more than the rocks in its ground.

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A fossilized vision of the future

 

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As the planet continues to warm, the battles lines in the debate over the causes continue to retrench and harden.

Where once climate science informed popular understanding about carbon dioxide emissions from human industry, and the effect these have had on average global temperatures over the past century, now this research is being hijacked by two diametrically opposed ideological camps bent on formulating fundamentally irreconcilable solutions to the present crisis.

On the one hand, the rising tide of environmental radicalism argues that the only way to save the world from ecological catastrophe is to abandon every mine and every drill. “Leave the carbon in the ground, where it belongs,” the mantra goes. “We must become clean and renewable; and we must do it now.”

It’s a nice, even necessary, idea. But it fails to recognize the essential truth about global society’s dependence on the stuff: It’s cheap and addictive. Virtually nothing we do or consume is unaffected by oil, gas and coal. Going cold turkey overnight is simply no option.

On the other hand, the burgeoning call for more drilling, more mining posits that fossil fuels are the glue that binds civilizations together. Without them, the argument goes, humanity will simply devolve into brutal clans forever warring over scarce resources; after all, internationalism is predicated on more or less equal access to the same suite of energy resources.

This, too, can be persuasive. Still, the reasoning also conveniently ignores the inconvenient truth of our shared predicament: Science indisputably proves that our time plundering the earth for cheap sources of energy is running out; sooner or later our industrial habits will make much of the planet uninhabitable.

In either scenario, the outcome is disastrously similar: millions will die and millions more will become economic refugees, merely waiting to die.

To avoid the coming zombie apocalypse, there is, of course, a third option: We could start using our minds (which are, I am reliably informed, in great abundance) and stop flapping our gums from the ramparts of our two fortresses of solitude.

If we can’t quit fossil fuels altogether, and we can’t live with them as we do today, then why don’t we stop thinking about them as commodities to burn and begin to appreciate them as strategic assets to deploy in the effort to build a largely clean, broadly renewable future?

In other words, use them as the feedstock for new manufacturing technologies that more effectively capture and distribute in-situ wind, solar and tidal sources of energy. Use them to power research into cleaner forms of short- and long-range transportation systems. Use them to, in effect, eliminate them as anything but the necessary evils they are for advanced research and development.

To some extent, this process is already underway in countries that maintain offshore drilling operations and yet pull as much as a third of their non-locomotive energy from clean, renewable sources.

Lamentably, it’s not underway in any convincing fashion in Atlantic Canada. New Brunswick may possess one of the world’s greatest wind resources, but its infrastructure woefully lags its renewable energy potential. Thanks to its high concentration of universities and advanced institutes, this province could become a living laboratory for this type of urgent research, the results of which might actually spark a durable, sustainable economic development boom with global consequences.

Naturally, this would require the sort of foresight, vision and collaborative determination we rarely witness in this province.

But without this resource available to policy makers, politicians, industry representatives, and environmentalists, our fossilized vision of the future is secure.

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Bridge over troubled waters

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Local activists spent decades twisting the right arms of federal politicians getting approval, five years ago, for a full-time, functioning fish passage through the causeway that connects the communities of Riverview and Moncton across the Petitcodiac River.

Now, it’s time to twist their left ones.

Provincial Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Roger Melanson may be a tad opportunistic (this being an election season, and all) when he asks national party leaders what, if anything, they intend to do about the second phase of the river’s planned restoration – a bridge that will replace a significant chunk of the existing fixed link – but he’s not wrong.

The permanent gate-opening has produced efficacious results that not even the most optimistic of riparian ecologists could have predicted back in 2010: The river is dramatically wider around The Bend; fish species have returned in droves; and the famed tidal bore has never been higher.

As a result, tourists have once again designated the banks of Atlantic Canada’s Big Muddy a choice destination on their calendar of things to do when hanging about southeastern New Brunswick in summertime.

Long-board surfers from California now routinely make the 6,000-kilometre trek, from their sun-bleached bivouacs, to “ride the tide” from the Petitcodiac’s mouth, near Fundy Bay, to the shores of Riverside Park (a 90-minute journey, by some accounts).

One of my sons-in-law – a marine biologist with a masters degree in environmental management, and as avid a surfer as God ever made – had never heard about the river’s “tidal bore, version 2.0” until he saw a lengthy clip on You Tube a couple of years ago.

“Alec,” he told me, “You know, I just have to do that.”

I have no doubt that he will.

All of which points to the obvious truth: When a community heeds, and invests in, the integrity of its natural splendors, the local economic impact can be as substantial as twinning a highway.

According to Parks Canada’s website, nationally protected areas make “a substantial economic contribution to (the country’s) economy. Through the spending of the organization and the visitors to Parks Canada’s National Parks, National Historic Sites and National Marine Conservation Areas, a significant and widespread economic impact is felt throughout the country.

“In 2008/09 Parks Canada’s organizational spending and visitor spending totalled $3.3 billion. Of this amount, visitor spending accounted for $2.7 billion and $587 million was spent by Parks Canada on three program areas. The overall national economic impacts derived from the spending attributed to Parks Canada on the Canadian economy are: Gross Domestic Product, $2,988 million; labour Income, $1,925 million; employment, 41,720 fulltime equivalents; tax revenue, $218 million.”

By my calculation, that’s a four-to-one return on public investment, which renders Parks Canada one of the most successful “businesses” in recent Canadian history.

Why, then, can’t the same logic be applied to the Petticodiac River – surely one of the most deserving heritage sites in this country that has not actually received designation?

It would begin with a bridge over the waterway where the causeway now stands. That edifice, with federal support, would further facilitate the natural flow of the river. Eventually, silt and mud would find their way to the coastal estuary and out into the sea.

Meanwhile, our duly protected riparian banks would become magnets for the environmentally sustainable development of public spaces – especially those that would support and augment a new downtown events centre complex.

In 20 years, or less, we might just well engineer a world-beating river restoration and find, to our astonishment, that we did something right.

Indeed, no arms needed to be twisted.

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In the lemur cage

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Almost nothing incinerates in me that odd, albeit infrequent, mood of reticence more thoroughly than a ring-tailed lemur perching gamely on my shoulder.

To be sure, this was not how I expected my day to unfold when I grabbed my camera and headed out to the Magnetic Hill Zoo in the outer burbs of Moncton. My job was routine enough: Snap a few pics of the establishment’s manager, Bruce Dougan, for a magazine piece I had been writing.

Mr. Dougan, a burly man with an Arctic fringe of beard and a safari leader’s comportment, is a born showman. He has to be. Without an effective promoter at the helm, a zoo can become as endangered as many of the wild animals they house.

So, it really shouldn’t have surprised me when he led me into the lemur cage to pose with a handful of friendly, inquisitive primates. Suddenly, the joint was bustling with dozens of the human variety, their noses pressed against the chain-link fence, delighted to watch the photog struggle to regain control of his camera from the creature attached to his forearms.

I am a little embarrassed to admit that in the 20 years I’ve lived in Moncton I’ve only been to the zoo three times – two of those occasions within the past month (once with one set of grandkids; the other on the aforementioned photo assignment). Frankly, I really haven’t known what I’ve been missing.

On one of my trips, the line of young families and old folks waiting patiently for admittance stretched all the way to the far end of the parking lot. A recent CBC story provided the context when it reported in June that “The Magnetic Hill Zoo in Moncton is opening a $1.4-million exhibit that will showcase three big cats. Visitors will be treated to a new exhibit featuring two Amur Tigers – Alik and Anya – and a leopard, named Katushka.

“Jeremy Nelson, a board member of Friends of the Zoo and chair of the fundraising campaign, said the new exhibit is the biggest project the zoo has ever undertaken. ‘I can’t believe we’re finally here today. There’s not a person who won’t be wowed when they walk in,’ he said.”

Added Mr. Dougan, in a statement: “It’s amazing that we have two of the most endangered cats in the world right here in Moncton.”

I’m not sure “amazing” is the right word. After all, the city’s public website describes the facility thusly: “The Magnetic Hill Zoo. . .is committed to safeguarding animal species and raising public awareness of endangered species. The zoo is designed with the well being of the animals. . . in mind.”

What’s more, “The staff of the. . .zoo is very concerned with protecting endangered animals. They follow national protection movements closely and participate in diverse repopulation programs. The . . .zoo is the provincial headquarters for the Frog Watch program, an initiative of the Canadian Minister of Environment to gather environmental information on Canada’s diverse frog species. . .In 2010 and 2011, the. . .zoo worked in partnership with Parks Canada to implement the Piping Plover Recovery Program. Eggs from abandoned nests from two maritime National Parks were brought to the . . .zoo for incubation and hatching.”

Protecting endangered species – or at least raising awareness of them – appears to be in the zoo’s organizational DNA.

Still, Mr. Dougan’s amazement is well taken. It stands to reason that a city – whose latin motto “resurgo” means, in English, “rise again” – should boast a zoo where reticence is impossible – especially in the lemur cage

Tidal power’s moment in the sun

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Somewhere between crashing oil and gas prices, luffing devotion to wind power and darkening enthusiasm for solar farms (thanks, no doubt, to the hardest, overcast winter since the Great Depression), tidal power in Atlantic Canada is enjoying. . .ahem, surging interest in Atlantic Canada.

And, why not?

The Bay of Fundy boasts the highest and lowest tides in the world, or so says bayoffundytourism.com: “Each day 160 billion tonnes of seawater flows in and out of the (bay) during one tide cycle ­– more than the combined flow of the world’s freshwater rivers.”

Here’s Wikipedia on the subject:

“The quest for world tidal dominance has led to a rivalry between the Minas Basin in the Bay of Fundy and the Leaf Basin in Ungava Bay, over which body of water lays claim to the highest tides in the world, with supporters in each region claiming the record.

“The Canadian Hydrographic Service finally declared it a statistical tie, with measurements of a 16.8-metre tidal range in Leaf Basin for Ungava Bay and 17 at Burntcoat Head for the Bay of Fundy. The highest water level ever recorded in the Bay of Fundy system occurred at the head of the Minas Basin on the night of October 4-5, 1869 during a tropical cyclone named the “Saxby Gale”.

To me, it all seems a natural “greenfield” for sustainable energy and associated economic development to me. But, until recently, the line on tidal power, propagated by the world’s industrial polluters whose vested interests include wringing oil and gas out of western sand, is that it’s pie in the sky: Too expensive to consider, too technologically challenging to contemplate.

Funny that. Not too many years ago, that’s exactly what traditional petroleum producers, attached to their land-locked derricks and offshore oil rigs said about fracking.

My, how the tight plays across North America have come home to roost.

A recent Globe and Mail piece articulated the point quite well:

“The oil sands have lost ground as new technologies uncork a flood of cheaper shale oil in the United States. . .‘The fundamental issue is the competitive environment has changed drastically over the last five years,’ said Samir Kayande, analyst at ITG Investment Research in Calgary. ‘The analogy that I think is appropriate is basically like tech’.”

Mr. Kayande elaborated: “In the last few years, a new technology has emerged, and so the incumbents who have made good money in the past doing things the old way are the ones who are threatened. And it’s really the upstarts who have the potential for being the large, significant players in the future.”

Sound familiar?

As it happens, a new technology has emerged in the Bay of Fundy, on the Nova Scotia side, of late. The Irish consortium, OpenHydro, is now ready to install two gargantuan turbines at the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy, just off the coast of Parrsboro. After years of effort and experimentation and, yes (gasp!), true innovation, these puppies might just feed 20 megawatts of clean, reliable power to the provincial energy grid.

That’s not a lot, compared with the 500 MG in place through wind turbines in New Brunswick, but it’s a valiant start. Just as important, perhaps, is what the initiative says about the future of high-tech, clean-energy manufacturing.

If the Maritimes wants to wean itself from energy politics-as-usual and build the economic capacity necessary to prepare its future for true prosperity, it could do worse than pulling its head out of the western tar sands and look to the east, were the tide is rising.

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On the shale gas merry-go-round

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The on-again, off-again shale gas industry in New Brunswick is less impressive for its estimated 70-trillion cubic feet of exploitable resource than for its verifiably inexhaustible supply of deja-vu moments.

Last week, Energy Minister Donald Arseneault introduced a new “panel” of experts – comprised of New Brunswick former chief justice Guy Richard, former University of New Brunswick President John McLaughlin and former chairwoman of New Brunswick Community College Cheryl Robertson – who will spend the next few months assembling the “true facts” about the practice of hydraulic fracturing, on which the Liberal government has slapped a moratorium.

Said Mr. Arsenault at news conference in Fredericton last Tuesday: “It’s an independent commission. . .They have carte blanche. I don’t want to prejudge how they are going to do their work. Justice Richard, as well as the two commissioners. . .will have the opportunity to consult who they feel can contribute to this process.”

All of which feels eerily familiar. A couple of years ago, the pro-shale gas Progressive Conservative government established the New Brunswick Energy Institute (NBEI) to, among other things, conduct research on shale gas development, including hydraulic fracturing, as an “independent” body of experts, beholden to nothing no one but their own findings and consciences.

Its mandate was, and is, “to commission and oversee scientific research in New Brunswick, peer review relevant research from other jurisdictions, and provide access to the information for New Brunswickers in an easily understood format so it can be considered in forming opinions about appropriate courses of action in the energy sector.”

Its mission statement elaborates on this role “to fund and foster research, which will assist with the understanding of, and decision making related to, energy issues and potential development in New Brunswick (including exploration, production, transportation, transmission and utilization.”

It’s also charged with examining “energy-related research and observations in other jurisdictions, to assess their value and relevance to the New Brunswick scene; to communicate the Institute’s findings in a clear, objective and comprehensive fashion to all New Brunswickers, including both the public and decision makers; and, to provide advice to the Government, either unsolicited, or upon request.”

Now that the Grits seemed determined to reinvent the wheel with its own panel of  commissioners, what tidings bode for the Institute? In a brief phone interview last week, David Besner, chair of its Scientific Advisory Council, told me that he is, in effect, waiting and seeing. As for Justice Richard, et. al., and whether or not they will play with the NBEI in the same sandbox, Mr. Besner said, “I haven’t been told anything. . .it’s just what I read (in the newspaper).”

Which, in fact, isn’t very much – though not for lack of sound reporting. Clarity just doesn’t seem to be any government’s forte when it comes to managing natural resources in this province.

When the Tories established the NBEI in 2013, they spent weeks attempting, mostly unsuccessfully, to explain just what the organization was supposed to accomplish. Now, the Grits find themselves with the same rhetorical problem.

To insist that the new panel has “carte blanche” says precisely nothing about its real purpose. Is it to objectively weigh the progress (or lack thereof) on the five conditions the provincial government requires industry to meet before lifting the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing? Or, is it to provide their political masters with a convenient, if respectable, third-party endorsement of its current policies regarding shale gas development?

As Mr. Arseneault says, “It’s a very heated topic. At the same time it’s a very important topic. . .Some people will never change their minds.”

Again, where have we heard that before?

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