Tag Archives: Corridor Resources

Shale gas greets new catchwords in 2015


There is, as Ecclesiastics declares, nothing new under the sun; there is only the same, old trend, fashion or fad, freshly washed, dried, dressed, shod and shoved, once again, onto the super-highway of human history and told to survive if, indeed, it dares.

And, so, welcome to 2015 my dear “social licence to operate”. May we call you “social licence”? It’s shorter and that might be good for your image. Lord knows you’re going to need all the help you can get this year.

Actually, as shibboleths go, this is not a bad one. It’s not especially jargony. It seems reasonably comprehensible. In fact, New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant is confident enough in his own understanding of the term, he’s started to deploy it as invocation whenever he talks about the on-again, off-again shale gas industry in the province (which is now off again).

“There shall be no drilling,” he says (or in words to that effect) until the companies responsible for hydraulic fracturing obtain the appropriate amount of social licence to proceed.

To which Corridor Resources’ CEO Steve Moran recently shrugged: “Huh?”

His actual words to CBC News were: “Even the premier when he was asked didn’t really have an answer in terms of what that means.”

Tory Opposition Leader Bruce Fitch concurred, as Premier Gallant attempted to clarify his position, telling the CBC, “We’ll certainly do the best we can to get the pulse, and the sense of New Brunswickers on whether any of these operations. . .have a social license.”

In fact, though, there’s no great mystery around the meaning of “social licence”. The mining industry has plumbed the nuances of its definition for years, or so says the Fraser Institute, an economic and public policy think tank with offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal:

“The  social licence to operate (SLO) refers to the level of acceptance or approval by local communities and stakeholders of mining companies and their operations. The concept has evolved fairly recently from the broader and more established notion of ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ and is based on the idea that mining companies need not only government permission [or permits] but also ‘social permission’ to conduct their business.

Indeed, the Institute states, “Increasingly, having an SLO is an essential part of operating within democratic jurisdictions, as without sufficient popular support it is unlikely that agencies from elected governments will willingly grant operational permits or licences. However, the need for and ultimate success of achieving an SLO relies to a large extent on functioning government and sound institutions. . .Many mining companies now consider gaining an SLO as an appropriate business expense that ultimately adds to the bottom line.”

If all this seems broadly familiar – just another way to renovate good, old “corporate social responsibility” (or CSR) and slap a “priced-to-sell” sticker on the front door – experts in these matters beg to differ (naturally).

“CSR is often too peripheral to the core business model, too much of a side-show, too far from providing real ‘shared value’,” writes John Morrison, executive director of the Institute for human rights and business, in a recent issue of the Guardian online. “Even more fundamental are the false dichotomies that CSR has set up. There’s the voluntary versus mandatory debate, companies that are ‘good at CSR’ are valued regardless of the impact of their core operations.”

What’s more, Morrison insists, “Social licence can never be self-awarded, it requires that an activity enjoys sufficient trust and legitimacy, and has the consent of those affected. Business cannot determine how much prevention or mitigation it should engage in to meet environmental or social risk – stakeholders and rights-holders have to be involved for thresholds of due diligence to be legitimate (sometimes even if these are clearly determined in law).”

Herein, of course, lies the rub.

Like its predecessor and memetic forebear CSR, social license, as a concept, is not especially difficult to comprehend or articulate.

What challenges policy makers, politicians, community representatives and industrial players, themselves, is making it work well or long enough to produce sufficient benefits to satisfy all competing competing interests at the table.

This is rendered all the more complicated by the fundamentally revokable nature of social licences. A company that meets its obligations in one area on any given day may not be deemed to have done the same elsewhere at another time.

Then what?

Under such circumstances, Premier Gallant’s shale-gas moratorium may be the lesser of two evils facing the industry in New Brunswick.

Then again, what else is new?

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Oh, a-fracking we will not go. . .


You have to hand it to him. If nothing else, New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant is a man of his word.

He galloped into office with a promise that, he believed, resonated with most voters: No more fracking, of any kind, until proof emerges that the process can be rendered safe and harmless to the environment (by which standard, we might all be wise to follow our children west to Alberta, where fantasies do, indeed, come true).

Then, a week before Christmas, he brought down the hammer.

“We have been clear from Day One that we will impose a moratorium until risks to the environment, health and water are understood,” Mr. Gallant told reporters in Fredericton, after he announced new amendments to the province’s oil and natural gas act that prohibit both water and propane-based fracking in the search for commercially exploitable shale gas.

The premier also made it clear that companies may continue to explore for resources. It’s just that they can no longer frack in their efforts to assess the potential of some 77-trillion cubic feet of onshore shale gas that is estimated to lie beneath the surface – which is a little like telling someone that he may own a car, just not the engine.

Still, Mr. Gallant allowed, “We’ll certainly always listen to businesses that may have concerns and try to mitigate some of the impacts if they (believe) them to be negative on their operations.”

Not surprisingly, the CEO of Corridor Resources had a few choice words to share. “We have always maintained that a moratorium is not necessary for an industry that has operated responsibly and safely in this province,” Steve Moran told the Saint John Telegraph-Journal on December 18. “Here is an industry that wants to create more jobs and they just basically shut it down. . .We expect that the government of New Brunswick should want to fully understand the potential rewards of allowing the industry to proceed, while ensuring the risks are manageable and acceptable.”

What’s more, he said, “The only certainty is that nobody will ever know the economic potential, should hydraulic fracturing no longer be permitted. To not allow the work to continue, would amount to a refusal by the government of New Brunswick to ask the question  of what the reward of pushing this resource might be. We would consider that a wasted opportunity for the people of New Brunswick.”

And, not incidentally, for Corridor, itself, which has over the past several years invested upwards of $500 million on the industry in this province.

Still, it’s not as if Mr. Gallant had left many options for himself. Breaking so fundamental a campaign promise in these early days of his term might have been politically suicidal (though, a strategist might argue that this is precisely when one wants throw one’s pledges under the bus; the public’s memory grows mighty short when economic development flowers from a broken word or two).

Mr. Gallant’s predecessor, Tory Premier David Alward faced a similar Faustian decision: raise the provincial portion of the HST, as every mainstream economist advised, or keep his campaign promise to maintain the status quo (note, of course, how well that worked out for him in the end).

Politics aside, it’s not clear, in any of this, what will constitute “safe” and environmentally benign fracking procedures. According to the premier, “Any decision on hydraulic fracturing will be based on peer-reviewed scientific evidence and follow recommendation of the Chief Medical Officer of Health.”

If the approach now involves reviewing the evidence of natural degradation from fracking in jurisdictions other than New Brunswick, how relevant is one state’s or province’s experiences to our own?

According to a New York Times investigation, published last month, in North Dakota “as the boom (in shale gas) really exploded, the number of reported spills, leaks, fires and blowouts has soared with an increase in spillage that outpaces the increase in oil production,” partly because “forgiveness remains embedded in the (state’s) Industrial Commission’s approach to an industry that has given North Dakota the fastest-growing economy and lowest jobless rate in the country.”

Four our part, the tolerances of New Brunswick’s own regulatory regime are not something we’re likely to test any time soon.

On that, we have Mr. Gallant’s word; and, so far, his word is good.

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A moratorium that’s missing in action


Something has put the swagger back into Steve Moran’s step. The CEO of Corridor Resources is pulling his best impression of Mad Magazine’s mascot, Alfred E. Neuman, these days. What, him fret?

“We’re a little bit worried about the short term, but over the long term, no, we’re not as concerned,” he told the Telegraph-Journal last week, regarding the New Brunswick government’s decision to slap a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in shale gas development.

“We think government officials understand the potential of the resource here and we think that once they feel they have addressed their issues in terms of health and safety that they will come around and that we’ll be back to work. . .We are confident that, over time, we will work our way through this moratorium.”

All of which raises an interesting question: What moratorium would that be?

The new Liberal government of Brian Gallant has been threatening to level a temporary ban on fracking since long before their election win.

Indeed, it’s not too hyperbolic to say that more words have been expended on the potential perils to human health of hydraulic fracturing than there has been gas extracted from the ground.

Here’s the new premier on the subject two weeks ago: “We believe there should be a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing due to the lack of information concerning the risks to our environment, our health, and our water. I think it’s important for people to know what we’re concerned about – it’s the process of extraction called hydraulic fracturing.”

Now, here’s Energy Minister Donald Arseneault just last week at the New Brunswick Exploration, Mining and Petroleum conference: “We have a clear mandate from the people and a very consistent message over the last two years that we want a moratorium on the shale gas industry. We had a clear mandate on election day to move forward on that and that’s what we are going to bring forward in the near future.”

Again, when, exactly, would that be?

In reality, it is not at all clear that the Liberals have received a “clear mandate from the people” on this issue. Some surveys conducted before, during and after the election campaign indicated that the public in this province is deeply divided on hydraulic fracturing. If anything, the edge seems to go to the pro-gas lobby as long as the industry can provide credible, verifiable assurances about its safety practices and environmental stewardship.

Neither is it clear that Messrs. Gallant and Arseneault are singing the same tune, let alone from the same song sheet.

There’s a big difference between slapping a ban on the shale gas industry, as Mr. Arseneault is mumbling about doing, and carefully parsing the distinction between hydraulic fracturing and other methods of resource extraction, as Premier Gallant is wont to do.

One definitively slams the door; the other leaves it open just a crack.

Of course, in this parade of mixed messages, Mr. Aresneault has been a marvelous band leader.

On the tricky position into which any sort of moratorium would put Corridor Resources and its gas customer Potash Corp., the minister weaved for the Telegraph-Journal earlier this month:

“The last thing we want to do is potentially put certain operations in jeopardy. For me, PotashCorp is a major player in New Brunswick. It’s a concern for me. It doesn’t mean that it gives everybody a green light, but it’s definitely in the back of my mind that I’ve got to be conscious and responsible going forward.”

As to the fate of PotashCorp’s new Picadilly mine without ready supplies of fracked natural gas, Mr. Arseneault said, “Those are the questions we are going to be asking the company. If we didn’t impose a moratorium, what is the activity they have planned for the next couple of years? Having a moratorium, how will it impact their operation? Will it impact potash? We haven’t settled on a specific menu other than we know there will be a moratorium.”

But, I wonder if that’s even certain anymore.

Indeed, Steve Moran, is there something you’re not telling us?

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It’s time to get clear on natural gas

Welcome to the energy big leagues, Mr. Premier.

Wheels upon wheels, gears upon gears, the squeeze play against Brian Gallant’s determination to impose a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in New Brunswick – the preferred industry method for extracting natural gas, with water, sand and a proprietary soup of chemicals,  from sedimentary rock – has officially commenced.

Not that there’s anything especially surprising about Corridor Resources’ public insistence that 30 of its fracked gas wells supplies PotashCorp’s operations in the Sussex area of the province – to no ill effect on the water, soil and air – with a competitively priced, comparatively clean source of fuel with which to dry the fertilizer for market readiness.

Nor is their anything particularly shocking about PotashCorp’s addendum last week.

“Access to a secure, stable and sustainable gas supply is critical to our. . .longterm success,” New Brunswick General Manager Jean-Guy Leclair told the Telegraph-Journal. “While there are alternate fuel sources for our facility, they would have profound implications on our current and future operational costs.”

Read between the lines, Mr. Premier. That’s a palpable threat. By now, you must know this. What’s mystifying is why you apparently didn’t see it coming.

Or, perhaps, you did, and your hard line in the sand during the election campaign was merely a political gambit to win over some voters.

Maybe your strategists advised you to hold that line for as long as you could and then capitulate only when major industrial players left you no choice.

If I had been one of your back-room boys, I would not have counselled this: Stay true to your principles until such time as the oil and gas lobby intimates major job losses; then reverse course in the broader interests of economic development.

And, in the process, blame the big, bad bogey man of corporate Canada for forcing your hand. “The devil made me do it, folks,” you might plead. “What can I say?”

Whatever is the case, all of it has been poor politics, poorer public policy and a fundamentally bad start for a new government.

And it’s getting worse.

Cabinet solidarity is one of the rocks that grounds leadership in a parliamentary democracy. It tells the electorate that the men and women the premier has chosen has his or her back, and, in the process assures the great, voting unwashed that they haven’t made a colossal mistake at the ballot box.

So, under these circumstances, what are we to make of Mines and Energy Minister Donald Arseneault’s freelance, off-playbook commentary last week?

“I was the minister back in 2007 who struck the deal to attract that investment of $2.2 billion (PotashCorp’s expansion) to New Brunswick,” he told the Telegraph-Journal last week. “We do know that Corridor feeds gas to the potash mines, and for me that is a very important component. . .For me, PotashCorp is a major player in New Brunswick. . .The last thing we want to do is potentially put certain operations in jeopardy.”

Now, we cut to a Page 3 story in the same organ on the same day.

“No,” declared Premier Gallant, “for us, it is a hydraulic fracturing moratorium, and we’re certainly willing to meet with different operations, different businesses, all stakeholders and New Brunswickers to understand the best way to implement this moratorium.”

None of which actually clarifies anything, except that the young premier of this province understands practically nothing about energy politics and, far more troubling, he seems oblivious to the worries of at least one of his important lieutenants – the one in charge of, arguably, the most important economic portfolio.

What now shall we expect? Will a great muzzling commence?

There is a way, of course, to safely and responsibly frack for gas in New Brunswick. We’ve been doing it for years. As long as we adhere to the tightest regulations our democracy provides — with the most comprehensive environmental oversight common sense produces — we have an even chance to reduce our reliance on far dirtier forms of fossil fuel and maybe, just maybe, generate the economic incentive to fully transition into a renewable, sustainable society. There is nothing new in any of this.

What is new is that we, in this fine, elegant, innocent part of the world must face the fact that we need the hard, tough, clear leadership to get us where we need to be.

Welcome to the energy big leagues, New Brunswick.

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What’s the fracking story, already?

On the endlessly controversial subject of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in this province, New Brunswick’s Liberal leadership has, in the span of just one month, gone from reliably hard-headed to unpredictably incoherent.

Here’s Premier-designate Brian Gallant talking to the CBC, following his election win last month: “There will be a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing and those businesses (oil and gas explorers), I’m sure, are not surprised. This has been talked about, discussed and debated as a province for months if not years now. . .I think we have jurisdictions around us where I think we’ll be able to pull some of their experiences, how exactly this should be instituted, what’s the best way to go about it and what are the next steps.”

He even speculated almost sanguinely about the possibility that one or more of the drilling operations might sue the province as a result of his determination to the toe the environmentally expedient line: “(A legal action) is certainly something that could become a reality. We recognize that. We will certainly meet with (shale gas companies) and we will explain why our position is what it is.”

Now, here’s newly appointed Minister of Energy and Mines Donald Arseneault explaining to the Telegraph-Journal this week that he is well aware of the relationship between Corridor Resources and PotashCorp – in which the former supplies the latter with fracked, New Brunswick gas and has for years.

“The last thing we want to do is potentially put certain operations in jeopardy. For me, PotashCorp is a major player in New Brunswick. It’s a concern for me. It doesn’t mean that it gives everybody a green light, but it’s definitely in the back of my mind that I’ve got to be conscious and responsible going forward.”

To which the averagely informed, casually interested follower of the public-policy follies that constitute a permanent entertainment event in Fredericton (regardless of the party in power) might react thusly: Huh?

Does this mean the Grits are backtracking on their promise to temporarily forbid fracking? Or is their position merely, as the spin doctors like to say, “evolving”?

A more urgent question concerns the fate of PotashCorp’s new Picadilly mine without ready supplies of fracked natural gas. “That’s a valid point,” Mr. Arseneault told the T-J. “And those are the questions we are going to be asking the company. If we didn’t impose a moratorium, what is the activity they have planned for the next couple of years? Having a moratorium, how will it impact their operation? Will it impact potash? We haven’t settled on a specific menu other than we know there will be a moratorium.”

Again: Huh?

Dear reader, now to recap:

There will be a moratorium on fracking at some point in the near, to mid-term, to distant, future. But whether or not it will be a comprehensive, province-wide ban or a series of selective prohibitions depends entirely on whether or not the injunction injures the fortunes of one of the province’s largest industries.

In this instance, concern for the water table – the moral justification of the moratorium in the first place – takes a back seat to the more pragmatic realities of economic development.

Then again, the mere fact that Corridor has been operating in New Brunswick without incident for 10 years at least raises the possibility that drilling for tight shale gas – either hydraulically or with propane – can, in fact, be done both safely and responsibly. And, so, the purpose of a moratorium becomes what, exactly?

Mr. Arseneault appears to suggest it’s partly about election-campaign promise fulfillment – the Grit’s analogue to the previous Tory government’s refusal to consider raising the HST even a little just because, while running for office, they said they wouldn’t.

“At the end of the day,” the minister said, “our principals don’t change – we are going to implement a moratorium. I didn’t lie about it (to industry). I made that very clear. But we just need to determine now with the information that we gathered from them and other stakeholders as well as what kind of moratorium we want to implement.”

In other words, just as soon as this new government gets its story straight.

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Boning up on fracking 101


The spectacle of an energy company’s CEO teaching the abecedarian facts about a drilling technology that’s been around for at least ten years to candidates for the highest elected office in the province is undeniably amusing.

Still, one or two of our premier wannabes might have cracked a book before showing up for class.

One can only imagine what crossed the mind of Corridor Resources’ Phil Knoll when he decided to pen a lengthy letter to the heads of New Brunswick’s five political parties essentially explaining that, no, gentlemen, it is not possible to extract gas from shale formations in this part of the Maritimes without fracturing the rock.

According to the letter, acquired by the Saint John Telegraph-Journal, Mr. Knoll is categorical: “There is no other method to release the natural gas from tight sandstone or shale other than through fracturing the rock. That is the reality.”

And if any political hopeful thinks that fracking (industry slang for hydraulic fracturing, the process by which water and chemicals, or, less commonly, gas, are injected under pressure into sedimentary rock to liberate the fossil fuel trapped there) can be restricted only to the production phase of development, he should think again.

“During the exploration phase, the only way to accurately determine the size of the resource and whether it can be produced economically is through the use of fracture stimulation,” Mr. Knoll explains. “Seismic research and the drilling of stratigraphic core holes can help evaluate the geological formations and their composition at different depths.”

What’s more, he writes, the debate in New Brunswick about hydraulic fracturing – whether, as its opponents claim, it will release vast quantities of methane into the drinking supply, enabling local farmers to literally light their water on fire – is largely misguided if not entirely moot.

In fact, over the past 10 years Corridor has used fracture stimulation to drill 43 wells with, as Mr. Knoll confirms, “no adverse impacts on potable water aquifers. . .Corridor operates some wells that were fractured 10 years ago and still produce natural gas without additional fracturing. Across North America, it is common to have wells producing more than 20 years after initial fracture stimulation.”

All of which suggests that fracking can, at least in this instance, be done safely. But that’s never really been at issue. The underlying quandry in the debate has always been: Will it?

That’s the question an article in Scientific American posed last year, to wit: “A new review article funded by the National Science Foundation and published in Science on May 16 examines what fracking may be doing to the water supply. ‘This is an industry that’s in its infancy, so we don’t really know a lot of things,’ explains environmental engineer Radisav Vidic of the University of Pittsburgh, who led this review. ‘Is it or isn’t it bad for the environment? Is New York State right to ban fracking, and is Pennsylvania stupid for [allowing it]?’ According to the review, the answer is no. ‘There is no irrefutable impact of this industry on surface or groundwater quality in Pennsylvania,’ Vidic says.”

Still, the article continues, “That’s not to say there haven’t been problems. That’s because there are many ways for things to go wrong with a natural gas well during the fracking process. A new well – or the 100,000 or so existing but forgotten wells – can allow natural gas from. . .deposits to migrate up and out of the rock and into water or basements. Leaking methane, in addition to being a potential safety hazard, is also a potent greenhouse gas that exacerbates climate change, although that environmental impact was not examined in this study.”

However New Brunswickers choose to chart their collective energy future, the wisest course will always begin with the self determination to obtain the best of all possible facts.

After all, to avert a risk, you must first understand it.

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