Monday, 11 June 2012

Op-Ed: Smoke This! NB

By Lawrence Wuest

Given the government’s fixation with the shale gas industry, I am constantly reminded of adolescents faced with the everyday temptations to try some seductive new experience about which they know little or nothing of the risks and consequences. There is also an adolescent mentality that refuses to accept personal vulnerability to the scientifically documented risks of the seductive pleasures tempting their teenage passions.

So it is with New Brunswick, especially with those adolescents whom we see bickering daily in the hallowed chambers of the provincial legislature. There is a constant denial of reality, a constant acceptance of industry ladled prattle on the inadequacy of the science documenting the environmental, health and long-term ECONOMIC costs of the gas industry.

A prime example is the government’s refusal to move beyond accusing the anti-shale gas lobby of depending solely on a “Hollywood Style Documentary” to counter industry claims about the safety of the shale gas industry. Perhaps, Premier “Wallboard” should open his eyes, ears and mind because the anti-shale gas lobby has tabled more science than the shale gas industry, government and assorted media have assembled combined.

The June 3rd Forum in Moncton was a good example of government manipulation of the shale gas issue. The talking heads at the conference seemed oblivious to the fact that: 

·         - Exporatory wells in the heart of gas country at Elgin, drilled by Apache in 2010, produced no gas of economic promise, prompting drilling giant Apache to withdraw from further drilling in the province

·         - Exporatory wells in the heart of gas country at Elgin, drilled by Corridor Resources in 2011, produced no gas of economic promise, leading to a drop in Corridor stock from $7.80 to $0.60 in the last year. 

·         -  After 2+ years of seismic testing, SWN has yet to show one map or estimate of the location, quality or quantity of gas anywhere in New Brunswick. SWN stock has fallen from $48.70 to $26.00 over the last year. I am not sure what investor in SWN stock would want the company investing an additional $20 Million in an iffy venture like New Brunswick. If New Brunswick politicians are still buying this snake oil, investors are not.

The last point about which the government is saying little is that given recent comments by company spokesmen, SWN will undoubtedly default on its license agreement with NB to spend $45 Million in the three years ending this year. Is the government going to give this company an exemption, based on a promise to spend the remaining $20 Million in 2013 or 2014 or whenever SWN can get it together? Is the government going to pin its economic hopes on the whim of SWN to decide if and when it will invest the remainder of its promised investment, just to see if, by some miracle, gas turns up? NB has been, and continues to be, a rube for this company’s investment game.

Moreover, the government has been unable to produce one shred of evidence that it has conducted a Health Impact Assessment of this industry, let alone an analysis of the economic cost of those health impacts. The talking heads at Moncton seemed to have had their heads placed firmly in the sand on this issue. Economists talking economics without reference to the biggest segment of the provincial budget does not speak highly of their competence.

The shale gas industry is not the answer to New Brunswick’s economic woes, and to dwell on the bogus promise of this industry, and to spend more useless dollars on saving face when the economic handwriting is clearly on the wall, speaks to the immature nature of this government and its foot soldiers. It is time for innovative and creative thinking on energy. Does this government have the capacity? Thus far, they have not shown it.

 Lawrence Wuest is a sculptor and forest ecologist from Stanley, NB. He has a background in spatial analysis and GIS mapping and was a participant in the Working Committee on Ecological Land Classification within New Brunswick. He is a frequent critic of the province's Environmental Impact Assessment process. He is assisting the Concerned Citizens of Penobsquis in documenting the impact of mining-induced subsidence in their community.

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