New Brunswick

'Looking under the hood' on shale gas

Pat Septon explains how he thinks the provincial government should move forward with public consultations on the shale gas industry.

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

Pat Septon is from Hanwell, N.B., where he still lives.

He works and owns Red Cow Marketing and Technologies in Fredericton.

Septon is active on social media.

At this point I can honestly say, that I am neither for fracking or against it.  I see the possibilities of horror and of rewards.

But at this point, as I see it, my being for or against fracking is a moot point. 

You see, I start and stop business plans all the time. I worked with hundreds of companies over the years to help develop their business or idea and I always tell them, if you don’t check your idea out, how will you know if it will be successful. 

You have to check under the hood of an idea to see what you really got. Risks are not where we are now in terms of fracking. I agree, if those testers were driving in my neighbourhood, I may get a little anxious. 

I do live in a local service district and in such don’t enjoy the protection of a big city to mandate and take to court environmental issues on my behalf. 

Bolstering a community on something scary using the words fracking and bad drinking water would be easier mind you, than lets say getting our local service district together to get increased police patrolling. 

Looking under the hood

But let's look at the facts. 

What these companies are doing is testing. They are not digging, fracking or doing the actual work at this moment to exploit our natural resources.

They are just determining what resources we have. Essentially, at this moment, they are just looking under the hood. 

We could end up, like many companies I work with, not going forward because the resources are not there. Or we could end up not going forward because the risks are too great, even though we know there are lots of resources there. 

Some people, and perhaps rightly so, will cringe at my next statement, but fracking to some has the same distinction as cancer. 

It is scary, and nobody wants it in their family.

But here is the thing, at this point, we are just trying to determine what is there.

Of course having cancer, and having natural gas are two different things, but it is better to know if you have it, and I say the earlier the better, because then you can better prepare on how to deal with it.

I believe, at the moment, government should do testing to see what we have and where.

If we find we have a few valuable resources, then we start talking about where we are digging, whom it will effect, what are the worst-case scenarios and what insurances would we have to protect ourselves, so our government, and in turn the taxpayers are not paying for mistakes, whether fiscal or environmental.

I can tell you with up most certainly, that if fracking was happening next door to me, and even though all environmental certainties were addressed, I would be concerned because my property is my most important fiscal investment.

I imagine the same can be said for the majority of New Brunswickers. 

But I am also aware that there is more than me in this mix. 

Strategic view

So I say we take this all in a strategic point of view. I would let the government continue on with the research of determining what is beneath the earth’s crust. 

The government may not get a precise report, as I am sure that information would belong to the gas companies. 

So if nothing pans out, we will probably only know, there isn’t a lot of gas in New Brunswick. 

But if nothing works out, all our angst is moot. Concurrently, I would recommend a citizens panel be developed with those for and or against fracking. 

This group should be of ordinary citizens, from all walks of life, with a professional environmentalist and hydrologist and a company representative of the gas company and a couple of government-hired lawyers.

If I were against fracking, I would start an organization and get the infrastructure built up. 

But remember at the end of the day, all the organizing work may be for not, as we may not have enough resources to attract a company who wants it. But New Brunswickers will at least know what is beneath the crust. 

I think protesting today, while understandable, is a bit of cart and horse situation. 

The government knows that there is opposition, and if fracking starts, they know there will be louder opposition. I would use this time to plan, and get ready for a possible issues, and plans to address the issues.

Citizens group

This citizens groups should be in charge of making sure there are recommended checks and balances, should there be a discovery worth a gas company coming in to extract the resources. 

This group should be in charge of ensuring insurance on the value, both current and future value of a property, should be in charge of testing, of ensuring that there is an ombudsman as well a private company hydrologist on staff, that is accountable to the ombudsman independent of the government. 

As it stands now, I think there are checks and balances that can be applied, and as many politicians say, if nobody is totally happy, then they must be doing something right. 

I believe this is one of those situations, where the needs of job creation, beating down the deficit and ensuring our families safety are all equally important. 

So while I am neither for nor against fracking, I am hoping that there is a silver bullet out there, a silver bullet that something will come that will help my children stay, safely, in this province and not have to leave for work. 

I hope that the government will put together a public panel, that has teeth that report not just to the government, but to the communities where such resources may be taken from. 

I would on both sides, protesters and government, use this time to prepare both a good protest and or citizens panel where if, and I say again, if there are some resources that gas companies are going to ask us to take out of our ground, we are prepared to responsibly deal with it. 

Of course all this planning may be for not, should the resources not be there. But this is just one man’s thoughts.