No clear strategy to get fracking consent, says energy minister

New Brunswick’s energy minister says he doesn’t yet know how to make sure people in the Sussex area want shale gas fracking.

Needing consent from 1 area is in itself a 'fallacy,' says Green Party leader David Coon

Mike Holland was appointed minister of energy and resource development when a minority Progressive Conservative government won the confidence of the house three weeks ago. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

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New Brunswick's energy minister says he doesn't yet know how to make sure people in the Sussex area want shale gas fracking.

Mike Holland was appointed minister of energy and resource development when a minority Progressive Conservative government won the confidence of the house three weeks ago.

He's been tasked with making fracking happen after Premier Blaine Higgs said he will pursue it in communities that "have demonstrated their desire to proceed" with development.

But the question remains of how to measure that desire.

"The truth of the matter is within a 21-day period we've reached the point that we have to create a means or mechanism to [consult], but I don't have it," he told the CBC New Brunswick Political Panel.

"I think it's a little unrealistic to expect within a three-week period for somebody to have that mechanism in place for something that important."

Energy Minister Mike Holland says he doesn't yet know how to make sure people in the Sussex area want fracking to resume in the area. Green Party Leader David Coon said the idea of only needing consent from one area of the province is in itself a "fallacy." Holland and Coon joined the weekly political panel. 35:54

The topic for this week's panel was fracking — and only Green Party and the Progressive Conservatives were represented at the weekly panel.

Last week Higgs said a cabinet order to lift the moratorium in the Sussex area could be approved before the end of the year.

During his campaign for office, Higgs said his government would create exemptions to the Liberal fracking moratorium "in a regional way, in a very localized way."

Green Leader David Coon, right, and Green MLA Megan Mitton won't be changing their stance against fracking. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

The areas where shale gas fracking is promising are near the town of Sussex and in Albert County. That includes Penobsquis, where Corridor Resources began extracting shale gas in 1999.

Holland said municipal governments in the Sussex area have shown support for fracking, but the actual area where fracking could take place is outside municipal limits.

Gordon Kierstead, chair of the local service district outside Sussex where fracking may take place, said this week his area has not been approached or consulted.

Holland said he has spoken to people in Albert County, which he represents, and they expressed interest in the possible economic growth coming from this private industry.

'Pouring gasoline on a burning house'

Green Party MLA David Coon said the idea of only needing consent from one area of the province is in itself a "fallacy," because it's not possible to contain all impacts of fracking in one area.

"We all share the atmosphere," he told the political panel.

"Any health effects that might arise related to local development would obviously be a burden on the health system that we all pay for."

A burned-out car with a First Nations flag sits near the site of shale gas protests in New Brunswick in 2013. (Stephen Puddicombe/CBC)

He said for the province to consider investing in non-renewable and fossil fuel resources is a step backwards.

"We've got a climate crisis and we're talking about increasing the production of fossil fuels which will be burned outside the community, further contributing to the problem. It's like spraying gasoline on a burning house. What are we doing?" he said.

"It doesn't meet the straight-face test ... We've got to reduce our production of fossil fuels."

Holland said while he does believe the province should move in the direction of renewable energy soon, they can't turn away from private investments which could bring in millions of dollars.