New Brunswick’s biggest corporate players in the shale gas industry are arguing they can operate in the province without damaging the environment.
Senior representatives from SWN Resources Canada, Corridor Resources and Contact Exploration wrote in separate opinion articles for CBC News that they believe the province could prosper if the shale gas industry moves forward.
But each company also continued to pledge to safeguard the environment. The industry and the provincial government have been confronted in recent months by mounting opposition to the shale gas industry and, specifically, to the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing or hydro-fracking.Many opponents to the shale gas industry say they are worried about the safety of their drinking water and the industrialization of some rural parts of the province.
Tom Alexander, the general manager of SWN Resources Canada in New Brunswick, told an industry group those early results indicate that gas may be widespread in New Brunswick.
Alexander also underscored his company’s commitment to the environment.
He said citizens do not need to select between two binary options, choosing the environment or siding with industry.
The company official said "properly constructed and managed" wells do not pose safety or environmental risks.
"Our commitment to safe and environmentally conscious operations in New Brunswick reflects the operating philosophy throughout our company: If we cannot do what we do in a safe and environmentally responsible way, we simply will not do it," he said.
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There are nine companies with a total of 71 leases to search for shale gas in New Brunswick.
However, the territory covered by SWN Resources is the largest of any of the companies.
SWN halted its seismic testing in the fall after a series of protests and some vandalism of its equipment.
Since that time, the company has analyzed about 2,800 geochemical tests that it had collected. The company expects to move quickly forward with the next series of tests next year.
While SWN is still in the testing phase, two other companies are actively working in New Brunswick.
Phillip Knoll, the president and chief executive officer of Corridor Resources, said his company has a long track record of safe operations in New Brunswick. Corridor Resources operates the McCully Gas Field near Sussex.
He said companies must earn the trust of the public by operating their facilities safely and in an environmentally responsible manner.
"On the basis of those commitments, and of the industry’s track record of safe operations, we are asking New Brunswickers to embrace the opportunity their province has to take its place in North America’s emerging energy economy," Knoll said.
"The citizens of this province can benefit from the province’s energy resources, as people in Western Canada already do. New Brunswick, can, in short, give prosperity a chance."
Steve Harding, the president of Contact Exploration, offered a similar theme. He said the company can never attain its financial hopes if it fails to protect the environment.
"If a company, such as Contact, is to remain in business it must operate within all regulations and in a manner that preserves the environment. There is no alternative to such a philosophy," he said.
Premier David Alward’s Progressive Conservative government has been attempting to deal with the ongoing protests and unease about the shale gas industry.
On Tuesday, PC MLA Kirk MacDonald tabled a massive petition inside the legislative assembly from people opposing the shale gas industry and hydro-fracking. The Conservation Council, the group that organized the petition, said it had more than 15,000 signatures.
The provincial government has formed a special group of civil servants who are working on new regulations for the industry. The Alward government has promised in its recent throne speech that it will usher in a new Environmental Protection Plan later this spring.
'Should an attempt be made to virtually eliminate all risk, the consequence will be that no economic activity takes place.' — David Plante, N.B. Mining Association
Alward has already committed that if the shale gas industry proceeds in New Brunswick, it will be subject to the most stringent regulations on the continent.
David Plante, the general manager of the New Brunswick Mining Association, raised the possibility in an opinion article written for CBC News of a regulatory prescription that would exceed those in other jurisdictions.
"At the end of the day, it must be recognized that there are risks inherent in any activity we undertake. It is essential that regulatory requirements reflect, and help manage, the risks associated with those activities," he wrote.
"Should an attempt be made to virtually eliminate all risk, the consequence will be that no economic activity takes place."
Each of the corporate executives also raised the potential economic windfall that the shale gas industry could bring the province.
The economic benefits of the shale gas industry have long been a topic of fierce debate.
There are very few estimates about how much the provincial government could earn in royalties if the industry were to develop.
One of the reasons for the lack of economic analysis is that it is unknown how much gas it is economically viable to extract.
Plante said the province could receive as much as $225 million in royalties by tapping into shale gas. He said this revenue stream could be an economic "game changer."