Why the rush to overturn fracking ban?

Commentary by Jim Emberger / Telegraph Journal
11 January 2019

Just before the holidays, Brunswick News interviewed Steve Moran, CEO of gas producer Corridor, Inc. This interview, and conversations that followed it, contradicted everything that Premier Higgs told us about lifting the shale gas moratorium.

Mr. Higgs has justified lifting the moratorium because, he said, jobs and $70 million in investment would follow.

However, Corridor said it won’t be doing any drilling or investing in New Brunswick until 2021 at the earliest, and then only if it finds a financial partner, and if gas market conditions are promising, and if the province eases some gas regulations. So even if everything falls into place, investment and jobs are years away. If Corridor can’t find a partner, or if market conditions are bad, or if New Brunswick chooses not to alter its regulations (which protect residents), there may not be jobs or investment.

Mr. Higgs also said our gas supply from Nova Scotia would stop at the end of 2018, and that we needed local shale gas to fill that void.

But pipeline owners and gas suppliers were already on record that there would remain plenty of gas supply, though there would be a price increase. Local shale gas wasn’t an answer to an immediate supply problem.

If exploration doesn’t begin until 2021, it could still be years beyond that before Corridor would be able to fill any local supply void.

So with years before any gas activity, why is the premier rushing to lift the moratorium? Even deciding to do it without legislative involvement? What about the concerns raised by the former chief medical officer’s award-winning report on shale gas, the conclusions of the Commission on Hydrofracking, and the five conditions implemented by the last government in its moratorium?

Isn’t there plenty of time for a sober and scientific discussion of those issues? What exactly is the public policy wisdom of acting in haste?

Mr. Higgs has also stated his government wouldn’t trade special favours for corporations in exchange for jobs. Does that apply to Corridor’s demands to weaken New Brunswick’s regulations? Is putting people at increased risk part of the “responsible” development of resources that gas proponents constantly tout?

Confronted with the contradictions to his campaign rhetoric, Mr. Higgs has switched his rationale and now suggests shale gas is needed to supply a potential liquid natural gas (LNG) export facility in Saint John. The facility was built years ago to import gas, but is now underused.

But even if he is right – and it’s a big “if” – we are still looking at years before any jobs or royalties accrue to the province.

It’s time for Mr. Higgs to tell us what the basis of his shale gas policy truly is, who will benefit from what he is proposing, and why he has rushed to act before any discussion of events that lie years in the future.

What is certain is that his reasons to lift the moratorium have been inconsistent, at best. How do citizens – both pro and anti-fracking – feel about promise of jobs and investment that won’t happen for many years, if ever?

Will we learn why we’re lifting the moratorium in Sussex, when Corridor said it wants to drill in Elgin? Will Sussex determine whether Elgin gets fracked, or did the premier simply use Sussex as a tool to show that somebody wanted shale gas?

How will the People’s Alliance react to having spent much of its newly won political capital on saving a government by supporting its throne speech amendment on fracking?

Were PC MLAs themselves blindsided by Higgs’ actions and haste? Do they feel embarrassed when defending these actions to constituents?

Most importantly, what will the legislature do? Will it wait years to see if Corridor’s wish list comes true, while the province drifts without cogent energy, climate, employment and economic plans?

The previous legislature’s all-party climate plan already contains a roadmap to a clean energy economy that needs only to be implemented. A recent study by Dunsky Energy Consulting, commissioned by Clean Energy Canada, indicates New Brunswick could replicate the successes of similar jurisdictions and create hundreds of jobs almost immediately, leading to thousands over the years.  Perhaps, moving gas customers to increasingly inexpensive renewable energy could be a priority.

Amazingly, in spite of all of this, there are those calling to broaden the consensus for shale gas. But no consensus can be built without a foundation built on truth.

Jim Emberger is spokesperson for the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance.