New Brunswick

Supporters, opponents doubt fracking will come to N.B. after report

Some supporters and opponents of shale gas development are saying in the wake of new recommendations on fracking that extraction may never happen in New Brunswick.

Panel's recommendations on shale gas development were released Friday

The future of fracking in N.B. is in doubt, say both supporters and opponents from the opposition. (CBC)

Some supporters and opponents of shale gas development are saying in the wake of new recommendations on fracking that extraction may never happen in New Brunswick.

Progressive Conservative MLA Jake Stewart, a supporter of the industry, says he fears "we're never going to have this industry."

At the same time, Green party leader David Coon says with gas prices dropping and new climate rules coming, it's unlikely development will ever take place.

Their comments followed the release of the final report by the Liberal-appointed New Brunswick Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing. It was set up in the wake of the government's moratorium on fracking,

The commission calls for a single, independent regulator to eliminate the problem of government departments that both promote the growth of resource industries and enforce the rules that apply to them.

That regulator would conduct both environmental and health impact assessments.

Calls for new consultations with citizens

The report also calls for a rethink of how the government consults citizens, including aboriginal people, on resource development.

It calls the existing process "a well-trodden path that is leading us in circles."

"The new model would require the government creating a space, making it sure it happens, doing its best to make this happen," said Cheryl Robertson, one member of the three-person commission.

"The regulator could be the mechanism for bringing people together to talk about these things," said Robertson.

But it's clear such a sweeping change won't happen overnight.

"It's going to take time to rebuild the level of trust," commission member John McLaughlin said.

Energy minister Donald Arseneault says the Liberal government has lots of time to study the report recommendations before making any decision on the future of fracking. (CBC)
Energy Minister Donald Arseneault says the Liberals have plenty of time to consider the recommendations.

"It's like any other resource," Arseneault told reporters. "The resource will still be there … There's a lot to think about and we're going to take the time we need to read the report and have a good discussion on it … This is too important of an issue for us to rush."

But Arseneault's main political opponents both say it may already be too late for shale, though they come to that view from different perspectives.

'Nothing new,' says Stewart

Stewart, who was part of the Alward government that promoted shale gas development, said the appointment of the commission was a public-relations exercise designed to placate environmentalists.

He said many of the ideas in Friday's report, such as a new regulatory model, health impact assessments and a plan for wastewater, were also part of the PC blueprint. "This is nothing new, folks."

Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin Tory MLA Jake Stewart says the Liberals have stalled too long on shale gas development, and fears they've missed the opportunity. (CBC)
But Stewart added that, given the time that has already gone by, in which extraction companies with New Brunswick licences have shifted their focus elsewhere, fracking may never happen in the province.

"The Liberal government has put this considerably behind, to the point where I wonder if we'll ever have this industry," he said. "There's no telling the damage they've done to this industry. They've put it so far behind, I'm going to say it's a decade," he said.

Coon agrees fracking may never happen, but for different reasons.

The Green leader says despite the commissioner's assertion that natural gas will be part of the provincial economy "for the foreseeable future," consumption is actually declining.

Greener energy the answer: Coon

Green Party Leader David Coon says greener energy will soon overtake natural gas, so fracking won't be attractive anymore. (CBC)
With prices far below what shale supporters had forecast when they were touting the industry, renewable energy from biomass is making more sense, he said.

"The competition is between natural gas and green energy," Coon said. "By the time natural gas prices start to come back in any significant way, we'll be well down the road to building an economy based on greener energy."

Fossil fuels will have "a diminished role," he said.

Stephanie Merrill of the Conservation Council says the recent Paris agreement on climate change, and Ottawa's plan to put a price on carbon, also make development unlikely.

Even if the New Brunswick government adopts all the commission's recommendations, "by the time that rolls around, given the work that's to be done plus the market conditions and the price of gas, we're talking years, potentially decades out. And by that time this conversation … will be over. We'll have turned the page," said Merrill.

But not everyone is declaring shale gas dead.

Joel Richardson of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, an industry group, says the need to move ahead is urgent, even if it means new regulations.

"Industry around us, and around the province, is moving forward with natural gas development," he said. "This is probably a good time to get things going and get people back to work in New Brunswick."

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