OPINION - SHALE GAS- LET'S RAISE THE DEBATE, LOWER THE RHETORIC AND PROMOTE THE FACTS

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By Jake Stewart MLA Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin

 

Hydraulic fracturing is not new to New Brunswick. We have had a producing natural gas industry for over ten years in our province, including the process known as fracking, or hydraulic fracturing. Natural gas from the McCully Field in the Sussex area has been supplying the nearby potash operation since 2003 and has been piped to the Maritimes and Northeast pipeline since 2007.

 

Lately, as I discuss shale gas and the Premier's new ban on fracking, it strikes me time and again how many people are unaware that we have had this industry ongoing in our province safely and without incident for over a decade. It's an important fact that has been concealed by all of the sensationalism and misinformation of those opposed to development. Their tactics have been successful in convincing some people to make a misinformed decision about shale gas.

 

As the elected representatives of our respective ridings, all MLAs have the duty, and should be honour-bound to present the truth to our constituents at all times. It frustrates me to see government members, including the Premier shirking their duty on the shale gas file. If I could get the Premier's ear for a moment I would ask that he stop using his election campaign rhetoric that was crafted to create fear and doubt about the potential of shale gas development in New Brunswick.

 

The Premier's use of expressions like "rushing in" and "all our eggs in one basket" is deliberately misleading not to mention false.

 

In a recent newspaper interview, Minister Rick Doucette promoted the same untrue picture:

"The new Liberal government will not hang its hat on one industry the way the Progressive Conservatives did with shale gas," Doucet said.

"And it was drill and frack, drill and frack," without answering questions about health, water and the environment, he said.

This statement cannot go unchallenged; particularly coming from a man who was part of the former Shawn Graham government that issued gas exploration leases without answering questions about health, water and the environment. It is well documented that our Progressive Conservative opposition urged the Liberal government to slow down and ensure proper rules and regulations were in place before proceeding. Anyone can refer to our 2010 election platform and read for themselves our commitment:

A new Progressive Conservative government led by David Alward will:

* Support the responsible expansion of the natural gas sector

while ensuring the safety and security of homeowners and our

groundwater supply.

 

Over the course of the last four years there was not one exploratory well drilled as we developed the proper regulations and royalties for this industry. Right now New Brunswick has these new regulations which are in fact stricter than those in our Canadian provinces that have been employing this technology safely for decades. The royalty structure we developed gives us 50% more revenue than before.

 

The only shale gas exploration done in New Brunswick during the mandate of the Alward government was harmless seismic testing using sound waves from the surface to look deep underground for natural gas. No drilling was done, no fracking was done and the Premier and Minister Doucet are well aware of these facts.

 

There was no "rushing in", no putting "all our eggs in one basket" and no "drilling and fracking."

 

The Premier has said that over the next few months he will form a committee to retrace the steps that have already been taken over the last four years relating to shale gas. It seems likely that he will disband the New Brunswick Energy Institute; a group of experienced experts that we assembled to give us continuous oversight and information about energy development including the shale gas industry. If the Premier disbands the Energy Institute, it will be another clear indication that he is not truly seeking information about the shale gas industry.

 

No activity is 100% guaranteed absolutely safe with no chance of human error or mishap. No daily personal or industrial activity is completely risk free. You can't comb your hair or cross the street with absolute certainty that nothing will go sideways on you. The important thing is to do every bit of risk-prevention possible. Through science and engineering we are constantly working to reduce risk.

 

A good example to examine would be the ever-evolving automobile. There was a time when car seatbelts and safety systems did not even exist. Look at the cars of today, with airbags, anti-lock brakes, multiple safety sensors and collision prevention systems that will even apply the brakes to avoid a collision. These are just a few of the many risk-prevention systems that have evolved over the years through automotive science and engineering. The same approach applies to natural resource development.

 

New Brunswick has the potential to become a world-leader in the safe and responsible development of shale gas and at the same time create jobs, economic growth, royalty revenues and allow our people to build their futures here in New Brunswick.

 

Premier Gallant has decreed that we must put a stop to an industry that has been in safe operation for over a decade. He has ordered that we take many steps backward before starting forward again. That is his privilege as Premier.

 

As the Official Opposition Critic for Energy and Mines I hope and pray that the Premier and his government will allow the new path forward to be crafted with honesty and facts and not the rhetoric and falsehoods that have forced our province to its current position.

One final thought-the latest unemployment figures show resource-rich Saskatchewan leading the nation at 3.6% while resource-rich New Brunswick has climbed to 10.2%. 

 
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