Rhetoric, reality and shale gas

There is a heated debate going on in New Brunswick over shale gas. Some want to proceed with exploration and extraction; some do not. Others are on the fence. What are the various political parties saying?

The Progressive Conservatives (now in power and desperate for some good economic news) want to push the industry forward. They have done a miserable job of handling the economic file and badly need a ‘success’ before the next election, which will be held in September 2014.

The Liberal Party wants a moratorium on exploration. A moratorium, by definition, is a suspension of an activity until certain conditions are met. In this case, the conditions might be related to environmental concerns being satisfied, although the Liberals have not been exactly clear on this. The more vague you are about the conditions, the easier it will be for you to say at a later date that the conditions have been met.

The New Democratic Party position is similar to that of the Liberals, although they want what amounts to a legislative moratorium. In other words, they want a moratorium put in place via a vote in the Legislature such that the moratorium could only be removed via another vote. The NDP use a clever trick of saying that they want a ‘ban’ on the industry. However, they imply that the moratorium would be supported by them only until a cost/benefit analysis shows that shale gas development has a net benefit to the province. In other words, they also support shale gas exploitation in principle, but demand that certain conditions be met.

Those opposed to shale gas development don’t appear to be interested in cost/benefit analyses or assurances of safety. They simply do not want the development to go forward. If that is an important enough issue to them, then logically they would vote for the Green Party, as that is the only Party that rejects shale gas outright.

The winner of the next provincial election will almost certainly be either the PCs or the Liberals. Perhaps the NDP will pick up a few seats and hold the balance of power. Given the province’s current economic condition, it is clear to me that whoever wins (or whoever holds the balance of power in a minority government) will eventually allow shale gas exploitation to proceed. It is a matter therefore of how much oversight, monitoring and regulation is put in place before the development proceeds.

Given the above, it might be worthwhile if the media spent less time inquiring whether politicians ‘support’ gas extraction or not and more time discussing how the gas should be used. After all, the gas is a public asset, and we should not just be discussing whether or not it should be exploited, but (if we do exploit it) how it should be used. Should we allow the industry to just release the gas into pipelines delivering the gas elsewhere or should we do what is necessary to encourage use of the gas here in NB. Supplying low cost gas to NB industry and residents might have some long-term economic advantages.


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