Shale gas moratorium needed until further study
A series of special citizen essays on shale gas exploration in New Brunswick
Posted: Nov 26, 2011 1:09 PM AT
Last Updated: Nov 27, 2011 8:52 PM AT
Where do we want to live? What do we see as the best path for New Brunswick?
I want to live in a New Brunswick with clean air, clear water, strong education, excellent health care, low unemployment, even lower poverty rates and a balanced budget. There is no quick route to the province I describe and if someone tells you there is you should question their honesty.
Natural gas exploration offers New Brunswick a rare opportunity. We have a resource that companies are willing to pay for the privilege to develop.
There is potential for hundreds of millions of dollars in annual royalties that would be paid to the province, land owners and communities. With this opportunity we have the potential to make things better for future generations or to make things much worse.
The most contentious issue with natural gas exploration in New Brunswick is the method required to extract the gas from the shale rock formations in which the gas is contained. The hydraulic fracturing method uses large amounts of water combined with chemicals and sand to create fracking fluid.
The fracking fluid is forced underground through a steal and concrete well in large volumes at high pressure using pumps at the well head. When the fracking fluid is forced into the shale rock formation it causes fissures in the rock that allow the gas to escape into the well bore.
There are many risks associated with fracking, the risk most talked about in the media and among opponents is ground water and surface water contamination. There are other potential risks and problems associated with fracking which include but are not limited to water consumption, waste disposal, air pollution, noise pollution, truck traffic and the marring of our natural landscape.
It is easy to understand why groups and persons are opposed to fracking, there are serious risks and concerns that could affect our lives and the lives of generations to come.
A person only has to look to the United States and observe how the industry has developed and the problems some citizens are now living with. The problems in the United States have been brought about by a lack of regulation and planning and insufficient resources for oversight.
Corporations with interests in natural gas exploration have been very effective in limiting government involvement in the United States.
Everything I have read indicates the risks associated with shale gas fracking can be greatly reduced. To manage risks we need long term strategic planning, the strongest regulations in the industry, the best companies adhering to industry best practices, strict oversight and even tougher enforcement of regulations. Even with effective regulation and oversight there will always remain the possibility of an environmental incident.
Concerns over Windsor Energy
The recent incident involving a company, contracted by Windsor Energy, in the town of Sussex is disturbing. My understanding is Sussex town council had scheduled a special meeting to vote on whether to allow Windsor Energy to conduct seismic testing within town boundaries.
The company contracted to do the work arrived in Sussex two days early, before the vote had taken place to provide them the proper permissions to conduct their work. The company proceeded to perform seismic testing without the town’s approval.
This was later justified in a CBC interview by the CEO of Windsor Energy; he stated had they waited for approval it would have cost the company $60,000. This is a perfect example of a company we do not want operating in New Brunswick.
After an investigation, Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup found that Windsor Energy violated the province’s oil and gas law by directing a subcontractor to perform activities within Sussex town limits without consent from Sussex town council.
The minister referred the matter to the RCMP and stated that he felt Windsor energy owed an apology to town council and the province.
The minister has within his power the ability to levy a fine of up to $200,000 or to revoke Windsor Energy’s exploration license. It is my opinion the minister is avoiding taking a decision by referring the matter to the RCMP.
The minister should have revoked the exploration license of Windsor Energy. This incident tells me we are not ready for the responsibility of developing this industry in New Brunswick.
Paying down debt
If natural gas exploration is something we decide to pursue, provincial royalties must go towards paying down the provincial debt or into a legacy fund.
Natural gas is a non-renewable resource that we would be taking from future generations of New Brunswick; therefore we must do something that will also benefit them.
If provincial royalties were entered into general revenues we would be setting future generations up for a bigger shortfall than the one we are currently experiencing.
This could happen because of market volatility, we discover fracking is not sustainable or we actually manage to wean ourselves from fossil fuels. For the sake of future generations we cannot afford to become dependent on gas royalties to fund our most cherished services.
Even if a natural gas industry does develop in New Brunswick it will not solve the problems we are facing but it has the potential to play a positive role in the future of our province.
Unfortunately, I do not believe we have a government that is willing to stand up to gas companies to protect our province, its environment or people, from the dangers of fracking.
The federal government has recently commissioned two studies, one from Environment Canada and another from a panel of independent scientists with the Council of Canadian Academies to determine the environmental impacts of fracking.
New Brunswick should impose a moratorium until the results of these studies are known.
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