Energy expert questions shale gas development

An energy sector observer says he's not sure New Brunswick is heading in the right direction when it comes to developing a shale gas industry.

Thomas Homer-Dixon says energy economy should be based on renewable sources

An energy sector observer says he's not sure New Brunswick is heading in the right direction when it comes to developing a shale gas industry.

Thomas Homer-Dixon, the director of the Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation at the University of Waterloo, contends the provincial government shouldn't depend too much on shale gas.

"Some recent analysis I've seen suggests that shale gas availability — it may change things for a decade, maybe 15 years, but over the long term we're going to remain in a situation where at least in North America natural gas may actually be reasonably scarce, although we can get it overseas in terms of liquefied natural gas," he said.

"So I'm not sure that New Brunswick should be making a major permanent commitment in this area."

Thomas Homer-Dixon says natural gas may become scarce in North America in about 15 years. (Courtesy of the Balsillie School of International Affairs)

Homer-Dixon is speaking at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton on Tuesday night about the transition Canada has to make to an energy economy that's based on renewable resources rather than carbon sources, such as natural gas and oil. He said he believes the future will include wind, solar and nuclear and deep geo-thermal energy sources.

Still, he said he isn't completely against Premier David Alward's goal of using a pipeline to bring in heavy oil from Alberta because, he says, that would increase Canada's overall energy security.

"I'm very keen on creating greater Canadian energy independence by sharing energy resources across the country and one of the problems is that eastern Canada remains enormously dependent on imported oil," said Homer-Dixon.

He is also the Centre for International Governance Innovation Campus chair of global systems at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo.

"Bringing some of the heavy oil from western Canada to eastern Canada would help resolve that dependency," he said.

Former Liberal premier Frank McKenna has said developing the shale gas industry could generate more than $7 billion in royalties and tax revenues, which would end the province's debt and deficit problems.

The Opposition Liberals have called for a moratorium on shale gas.

Opponents have raised concerns about the impact the hydraulic-fracturing process, commonly known as hydro-fracking, would have on water supplies.

The process involves companies injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground, creating cracks in shale rock formations, enabling them to extract natural gas from areas that would otherwise go untapped.

Last month, provincial officials unveiled new rules governing the oil and gas industry, saying they will be among the strictest in North America.