Tag Archives: fracking

Fracking, we hardly knew ye


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.


To frack or not to frack


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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The origin of facies


Shall we see a reason to dither, to fuss or bother about shale gas development any longer? Or shall we move on and direct our righteous anger to more eminent calamities in this province – the hopeless young, the fatalistic elderly, the imperilled poor, the overtaxed, the house-proud, the land-poor, stray dogs and cute cats without homes to wreck?

Let’s face it, fracking as a nexus of public opinion in New Brunswick is as dead as a dry well. We don’t want it; we never will.

Sure, we will always want cheap oil and gas; we will just want it shipped in pristine containers that never leak, never smell, never foul the big, rock candy mountain that is this superbly self-aware part of the world.

And sure, we will always want what big-box stores offer: plastic, vinyl, more plastic, more vinyl. Never mind that 88 per cent of everything you can spend a dollar-and-a-half to buy is composed of petroleum derivatives – from shampoo to cigarettes, from sundresses to sandals.

Nope, folks, we are fated to play out the roles our human natures dictate. We want what we want, and the cheaper the better. That’s called evolution. Look it up. It’s the one principle that tethers all ideological tribes together, forever.

“My position is well known and I respect (New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant’s) approach, because I do think it’s thoughtful and considerate,” former New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna told the Saint John Telegraph-Journal recently. “What I like now is that there is a specific process in place (for shale gas development). It would be my hope, whatever the conclusions would be, that we would arrive at it expeditiously. I wouldn’t want to see (this issue) hanging around us for many years. I’d like to see us deal with it as quickly as possible.”

He is absolutely right, of course. Still, to say that Mr. McKenna’s views on this subject have ‘evolved’ in recent times is to say that Mr. Gallant won the past provincial election thanks, in part, to the federal Grit, anti-fracking machine operating just barely behind the veil that young Justin Trudeau wears to hide his pretty face from the voting public.

Once upon a time, Mr. McKenna had this to say to me about shale gas in New Brunswick: “We have in situ now, calculated by Corridor Resources Inc., 67 trillion cubic feet of gas. That’s bigger than western Canada. It’s a huge deposit. If 10 per cent is exploitable, that’s enough to create a revenue source for New Brunswick for decades to come.

“All in, it would result in about $15-20 billion in investment and 150,000 person years of work. And for governments, it would result in between $7-9 billion worth of royalties and taxes. The way I look at it, the real win comes when we take our indigenous shale gas in the province and hook it into the Canaport liquified natural gas (LNG) facility in Saint John.”

In other words, New Brunswick’s shale reserves could change the conversation about the province’s anaemic economy forever. They could transform the region into a jurisdiction whose wealth rivals that of a Saudi Arabian principality.

So, shall sleeping wells lie?

This province is justly famous for its ability to come a short way in a long time. Shale gas once represented an even chance to transpose this historically proven equation. No more. We must look to other, more socially acceptable ways to keep ourselves from starving and freezing in our own homes.

As Mr. McKenna might advise, we must adapt, if not exactly evolve.

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On the shale gas merry-go-round


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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Just fracking grow up already!


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.

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The goofiness of New Brunswick’s very own Fraggle Rock


It’s been a long time coming, but fracking has officially become not only the bugbear, the hoary thorn, the bothersome burr in the butt of New Brunswick’s body politic, but also its low, comic relief.

For this, we can thank former Tory Premier David Alward, who, while he was in office,  couldn’t stop yakking about the alleged 70-trillion cubic-feet of gas resting quietly beneath the shoes of all those who still refused, against all common sense, to move to Alberta, where considerations about air, soil and water quality are. . .let’s just say, petrochemically sanctified.

But kudos should also go to our new premier, Brian Gallant, who just can’t seem to make up his mind about a drilling technology that’s been deployed safely in this province for nearly two decades.

Mr. Gallant squeaked out a minor majority of seats for his Grits in last September’s election at the expense of Mr. Alward, largely by promising to put an end to hydraulic fracturing the practice of blowing water and chemicals into tight plays of oil-and-gas-laden sedimentary rock. A moratorium is in order, he declared. (Except, of course, it wasn’t).

Now, he intends to deliver one in a manner of speaking.

In an interview with the Saint John Telegraph-Journal last week, he stated, “We had a commitment of having a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. We will be presenting a mechanism on how we will accomplish that in the net few weeks. Now, whether it will be able to pass or not in the time frame that remains to be seen with how the opposition reacts to this.”

Oh, really, Mr. Gallant? The last time any of us checked, you actually held a majority of seats in the provincial assembly. Or, did you skip over the section in the Liberal party playbook, entitled, “Now that you are premier, here are a few guidelines to keep you from falling on your own sword; subsection 1.0, choking on your own words”?

To wit: Is the premier actually intimating that his moratorium on shale gas development in this province depends on how the provincial legislature’s minority opposition votes on the issue? Because if he is, I can save him the trouble of orchestrating an extensive, tedious debate. So, for that matter, can Bruce Fitch, Tory leader.

“We’re going to expose the gaps that we’ve seen in Premier Gallant’s initial foray into politics,” Mr. Fitch declared in the House last week. “Most premiers come in with 100 days of change. He’s had 100 days of chaos.”

The assessment is, of course, as harsh as it is inaccurate. The new premier has racked a couple of historic wins since assuming the mantle of office this past fall. One, surely, is his courageous decision to bring New Brunswick into the 21st Century on a woman’s right to choose how and when to continue, or terminate, her pregnancy.

Another innovative, though less dramatic, policy change is Mr. Gallant’s determination to open up his $900-billion infrastructure rebuild of the province to the private sector’s technology industries. That sort of thinking hasn’t been in evidence around these parts since former Premier Frank McKenna decided to transform 1990s New Brunswick into a Silicon Valley of the north.

All of which makes Premier Gallant’s position on shale gas development in this province perplexing, if not incomprehensible.

A man this evidently smart, engaged and studious a man who suggests that a proven technology needs halting even though that same technology can and is safely deployed to keep a potash mine, for example, in operation purely and simply boggles the mind.

Or, maybe, just maybe, that’s the big joke, the big kahuna of humour in all of this.

The Grits need an exit strategy from its ill-advised promise to the less than half of New Brunswickers who support a temporary ban on fracking. All the reigning Libs need do is appear consultative, inclusive, welcoming in a big-tent sort of way. Oh, dear Tories, won’t you please raise your hackles, sound your trumpets, and get us out of this mess we created.?

Indeed, Freddy Beach, won’t you please send in the clowns?

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Would fracking turn New Brunswick into North Dakota?


For those of the anti-shale gas, “I-told-you-so” bent, a New York Times piece from last Sunday’s edition about the utter mess – both figurative and literal – North Dakota’s oil and gas regulators are making of their state provides for some delectable reading.

Some of us will peruse the weighty tome (it runs close to 5,000 words) with mock horror and secret delight as we study a jurisdiction so fascinated by the economic promise new, horizontal drilling technologies represent that it has, with few exceptions, thrown environmental caution to the wind of commerce.

As the Times article makes plain, “Since 2006, when advances in hydraulic fracturing. . .began unlocking a trove of sweet crude oil in the Bakken shale formation, North Dakota has shed its identity as an agricultural state in decline to become an oil powerhouse second only to Texas.”

But, according to the newspaper’s independent investigation, using “previously undisclosed” sources of information, “as the boom 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 (or so the implication goes), “forgiveness remains embedded in the (North Dakota) Industrial Commission’s approach to an industry that has given (the state) the fastest-growing economy and lowest jobless rate in the country.”

When the Times says “forgiveness”, it’s not exaggerating. Its research indicates that, since 2006, the Industrial Commission has collected a little over $1 million in penalties against oil and gas companies found culpable in environmental accidents. That compared with $33 million in Texas – no state of tree-huggers, it – during the same  eight-year period.

In other words, writes the Times, North Dakota is a “small state that believes in small government. . .It took on oversight of a multi-billion-dollar industry with a slender regulatory system built on neighborly trust, verbal warning and second chances.”

Meanwhile, “over all, more than 18.4 million gallons of oils and chemicals spilled, leaked or misted into the air, soil and waters of North Dakota from 2006 through early October 2014. The spill numbers derive from estimates, and sometimes serious underestimates, reported to the state by the industry.”

This is, of course, just the kind of thing opponents of shale gas development in New Brunswick fear: The ready collusion (or, at least, the appearance of one) between those who would rape the good earth for its booty of fossil fuels and those who are empowered by law to protect the environment from such ritual violations.

After all, they insist as they point to their smudged copies of last week’s Times, if it can happen in North Dakota, it can just as easily happen here.

In fact, they’re not entirely wrong.

The slope to ecological perdition is, indeed, slippery, made all the more so by the oil and gas industry’s unquenchable thirst for growth. When a province, like New Brunswick, or a state, like North Dakota, believes it has few options to forestall economic collapse, it will, more often than not, sell out to the highest bidder with the fanciest drilling technologies and most accessible checkbooks.

Still, when a province or state has more things going for it, economically speaking, than simply its natural resources, there’s little temptation to relax regulations and oversight to buffoonish parodies of themselves.

The question is whether New Brunswick is anything like North Dakota?

In fact, there may exist some disturbing similarities between us. Over the years, we’ve both suffered from stubborn levels of underemployment, a perennial skills drain, a creeping fiscal morass, declining public revenue, and outmigration.

But our differences make a far more compelling argument that New Brunswick is better equipped than its American doppelganger to stick to its regulatory guns.

We have a history of protest against shale gas, especially hydraulic fracturing; North Dakota does not. We have a tradition of strong, involved central government; North Dakota likes to have its libertarian pie and eat it, too.

What’s more, New Brunswick already has, in place, a reasonably strong set of regulatory injunctions, starting with a moratorium (or, rather, the threat of one) on tight oil and gas drilling until the current Liberal government is satisfied about its safety.

All of which, perhaps, affords us the moral authority to tsk and cluck at our friends south of the border. They blew it.

But their bad examples should not lead us to assume that we are doomed to set our own, should we ever get around to believing in ourselves again.

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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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The institutional non-credibility problem

For and against shale gas in New Brunswick: The immoveable object meets the implacable foe

For and against shale gas in New Brunswick: The immoveable object meets the implacable foe


New Brunswick Premier David Alward’s concern that his provincial Energy Institute is losing credibility owing to the long shadow its not-so-dearly departed founding chairman, Louis LaPierre, has cast raises a certain question: What credibility?

Are not reputations, good or otherwise, built on track records?

The Conservation Council of New Brusnwick’s Stephanie Merrill comes as close as anybody to putting a finger on the matter when she tells the Telegraph-Journal, “We’re concerned about this institute. Its mandate and what it’s going to do have been very unclear.”

Though she allows that the province could use an organization that soberly deliberates the future of energy in this neck of the woods, she perceives a “serious flaw in continuing the discussions around shale gas, pipelines, the same old story and not a new vision.”

It is, of course, in her job description to question the merit of pursuing a fossil-fuel -based economy, but I wonder if she prematurely gives the Institute too much credit. In the several months since its formal founding, it hasn’t done much for or against “shale gas” and “pipelines” and what might be termed an “old vision” of industrial development.

That’s not to say it isn’t packed with expertise (a fact which critics, who are out to skin Dr. Lapierre for misrepresenting his academic credentials even as he, himself, conceived of the Institute, conveniently neglect to mention).

Its scientific advisory council includes Adrian Park,Tom Al, Maurice Dusseault, Karen Kidd, Richard Saillant, David Besner, and Fred Metallic. All but one hold PhDs in relevant disciplines, such as geology, earth sciences, civil engineering, environmental biology, chemical engineering.

Dr. Besner, who replaces Dr. Lapierre, will function as the Institute’s interim chairman, a job for which he is eminently qualified, at least according to N.B. Energy and Mines Minister Craig Leonard. “He is very familiar with the framework that has been established for the institute,” the minister declared in a statement last week. “I am pleased that he accepted to lead (it). . .as it prepares to launch the water monitoring program along with several other key initiatives.”

So, what are these “key initiatives?” A more intriguing question, perhaps, is how they’ll be prosecuted, given this tasty revelation, reported in the Telegraph-Journal on Friday: “Besner’s hgonorarium does not increase in his new position. All members (of the Institute) are entitled to $450 for a full day’s work. Previous to taking the new position, Besner said the job typically involved a day and a half of work a month. He expects he’ll be be busier as chairman.”

Still, “he’s not quitting his regular job as a consultant and will not work at the institute full time.”

All of which sounds like extraordinarily light duty for a deliberative body in which the premier and his lieutenants have invested both money and confidence.

Certainly, the organization’s website doesn’t offer much in the way of enlightenment. “The New Brunswick Energy Institute is an independent body separate from government that was created to examine the science surrounding energy possibilities in our province,” the home page states. “Made up of experts in different areas of science, the Institute will examine the science pertaining to oil and gas development in the province.”

The “Research” section lists two publications: Dr. Lapierre’s initial report, which called for the Institute’s establishment (hardly, we now know, a rigorous piece of science); and a Deloitte study on shale gas supply chain opportunities in the province.

Click on the “Ongoing Research” button, and up pops a promise: “Coming Soon.”

To be fair, the Institute is still young. It hasn’t had time to find its walking shoes, let alone hit the ground running. But the political spin surrounding its eminent authority and now endangered credibility, which, we are assured, must be urgently restored is both irksome and counterproductive.

The perceived misdeeds of one man have far less to do with the Institute’s reputation than does its own lack of deeds to date.

Let it actually do something before we assign any degree of importance to its role – good or bad – in framing energy policy in New Brunswick.

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