Tag Archives: shale gas development

The good, the bad and the merely okay of 2014

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To despise, revile and ridicule the year that was is a taunting temptation. So too, is the impulse to celebrate, rejoice and exult. Rarely, do we find, in repose, the clarity to declare that the past 12 months of our brief lives were. . .well, just fine, thank you very much.

They weren’t spectacular; but neither were they calamitous. They weren’t elegiac; but neither were they prosaic. They produced (if we were lucky and studious) just enough to help us keep calm and, as the saying goes, carry on.

In fact, in New Brunswick, there was much to mark merrily in 2014, starting with the orderly transfer of democratic power (a miracle, by every standard, on this vicious orb).

The young and energetic Liberal Leader, Brian Gallant, replaced the slightly older, but equally energetic, David Alward as premier of the province. The latter receded gracefully into the background of politics, after one term in office, as the former rode the crest of a wave of support appropriately reserved for honeymooners.

Premier Gallant promised in his campaign to restore the legal apparatus for a woman’s right to choose her own reproductive options. Within a month of assuming office, he did just that. According to a CBC report in late November, “The premier promised in the election campaign to review Regulation 84-20, which requires women seeking a hospital abortion to have two doctors certify it as medically necessary. The review identified barriers to abortion services, according to Gallant.

“It also requires the procedure to be done only by a specialist, whereas other provinces allow family doctors to perform abortions. The so-called two-doctor rule has been in place for two decades, supported by previous Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments.

“Identifying those barriers was an important step towards eliminating them,” Mr. Gallant stated, adding that the new rules will no longer insist that two doctors guarantee that the surgery is medically warranted. As the CBC reported, “This will put reproductive health procedures in the same category as any insured medical procedure, according to the government.”

Indeed, the premier noted, “We have identified the barriers and are proceeding to eliminate them in order to respect our legal obligations under the Supreme Court of Canada ruling and the Canada Health Act regarding a woman’s right to choose.”

Lamentably, that’s where the innovation ended.

As for natural resources, the new premier has been equally faithful to his campaign promises (much to the surprise of every scribbling pundit in the province, including Yours Truly). He will not, he says, sanction any form of fracking as long as he remains unconvinced about the technology’s safety and environmental soundness. And, for now, he remains unconvinced.

This decision could cost New Brunswick tens-of-millions of dollars a year from a mature industry that has never polluted the air, spoiled the soil or poisoned the water table. It might even inspire a wholesale exodus of oil and gas industries from this province at a time when the budgetary deficit clings perilously close to $400 million and the long-term debt hovers around $12 billion.

Still, Mr. Gallant is adamant. And, for that, at least, he should be respected. As an elected representative, he is sticking to his guns. How he intends to pay for his multimillion-dollar infrastructure build over the next four years remains an open question – and, for now, a question for another time.

In the end, as New Brunswick’s social contract appears progressive, its economic future looks very much like its present and recent past: unspectacular, uninspired and fundamentally unproductive.

For all the good this province’s new government purports to arrange for its citizens, all who might pay for such noble intentions find cold comfort at the curb to which they’ve been kicked.

For all the bad this province’s new government hopes to avoid, all who might benefit from such principled injunctions obtain higher costs at local fuel depots fed by foreign oil and gas.

As for the rest of us, the merely okay with the status quo, we’ll just keep calm and carry on, hope for the best and imagine that at this point in our brief lives we are, indeed, just fine.

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Oh, a-fracking we will not go. . .

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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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