New Brunswick

Dispelling myths about shale gas

Ed Armstrong attempts to debunk what he feels are myths surrounding the shale gas industry and deconstructs the types of protesters who are opposing the industry.

A special series of essays from citizens on the issue of shale gas exploration

Ed Armstrong is a retired civil servant, who is living in Sussex.

Armstrong worked for Department of Transportation as a heavy equipment technician for 24 years and two years as assistant to the district systems analyst.  From 1983 to 2000, he was on the provincial executive of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1190 and also served as a first vice-president.

Armstrong is concerned the debate over the future of New Brunswick's shale gas industry is being dominated by a series of myths.

The former civil servant writes that there are reasonable questions surrounding the industry but he argues the debate should be centred on facts.

Let me begin by saying, I’m not totally convinced that shale gas extraction in its current form is 100 per cent safe and foolproof, nor do I think it has to be to work in New Brunswick. 

I do feel, however, that any company doing business in the proposed gas fields of New Brunswick had better be prepared to do it better than they have ever been required to before now. I’d also expect as new technologies are developed and certified, that these will become the norm in New Brunswick. In other words we want the best available practices in place all the time not yesterday’s best still in use tomorrow.

We all have read, heard, and watched countless stories concerning the pros and cons of "fracking." To quote the middle school principal at the time my girls were in his school, "There are two sides to every story and somewhere in the middle lies the truth."

Here is the inherent problem with a debate based on passion, not facts where both sides claim to have the "true facts" on the issue, reminding me of one more quote, this one attributed to President Barack Obama, "You Are entitled to your opinion, you are not entitled to your facts". 

What I hope to do is provide, what in my opinion, the true and accurate facts in fracking are, dispel the facts that can’t stand up to true scientific scrutiny by supplying links to the proof from sources beyond reproach.

Certain research circulating out there in the vastness of the internet is accepted as fact based solely on the fact that the link was found through a credible search engine, but let’s separate fact from fiction and see where we end up.

Debunking Gasland

My first issue deals with the movie Gasland. There are just as many webpages devoted to debunking the movie as there are web pages supporting it or debunking the debunkers.

However, I offer you one link that takes you to specific incidents in the movie and offers sources where the statements range from outright falsehoods to very strongly slanted.  This article was the first Google listing under the search term debunking gasland. I suggest everyone check out the links they provide and form your own opinions.

I for one have a strong tendency to believe various non connected state and provincial agencies who investigate a problem within their jurisdiction and all come to the same conclusions. I have a hard time embracing the environmental movement whose main tactic, when challenged, is to provide only like-minded defence of their positions without seeking the research by well-respected educational and technical colleges and universities.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) released a far-reaching paper on the future of natural gas in 2010  and its conclusions on shale gas are included in that report that you can view or download. A summary of those findings appeared in  The Engineer. The magazine was launched in 1856 and is the only magazine serving the U.K.'s engineering technology community. 

Deconstructing the protesters

My second issue deals with the NIMBY’s, the BANANA’s and the professional "Anti Everything" protesters.

NIMBY, an acronym for Not in My Back Yard.

These individuals have a point to a degree; no one wishes to have an industrial plant butting up against their immediate property. 

However, if said industrial facility meets every requirement under provincial and federal law and there aren’t any zoning issues (i.e., rural areas) then beside NIMBYs what is there to stop the establishment of this plant? Nothing and that is the way it should be.

BANANA, an acronym for Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.

These individuals and groups seem to cause the most harm. Regardless of the development, they are opposed. Why?

Some people have a personal issues with the development, others opposed in general because anything from big business can’t be good (businesses lie) and still others are opposed to anything that has any potential whatsoever to harm the environment while others just oppose for the sake of opposing.

This brings me to my third and final category of protester. The Professional.

These people have for the past several years protested anything and everything just because they can. It makes no difference what the cause, but you will see certain individuals in every community front and centre at the microphones or in front of the cameras making sure they get their 15 seconds of fame with the sound bite.

These people in my opinion usually have no stake in the issue at hand, but they are dammed sure they will be seen and heard on as many media outlets that are willing to broadcast their drivel.

Looking for strong leadership

I came across an article in the New York Times and I found a very interesting quote that sums up those opposed to fracking, "There’s no arguing with a person who is opposed to hydrofracking." This pretty well sums it up in less than a dozen words.

There is another statement made in that article from the dairy farmer that is the centre of the story, "This land and my family are my life," Ms. Huntington said. "We probably use three to four million gallons of water to feed my cows. I’m not going to spoil something I need to make my living and for future generations to come."

Again, this lady speaks for most of us on the pro side, we would no more want the natural gas industry to ruin our communities with an environmental disaster than we would want our neighbour to lose his job or have his house burn down.

We are all in and from the area, some of us have roots going back more than 200 years. We want this development, but we only want it if it can be done in a safe responsible manner by companies committed to doing the same.

We are also looking at our government to show strong leadership. 

Along with the very stringent regulations and strict enforcement through rigorous inspection, we expect that the royalties derived from this venture will be more than a few token coins but all stakeholders will derive significant benefit from the development of what appears to be a very significant natural gas area.