Last week, New Brunswick provincial election candidates gathered anxiously in a TV studio in an attempt to argue their way into viewers’ hearts, before voters head to the polls on September 22.
The greatest wedge issue?
Hydraulic fracturing and shale gas extraction.
In short, Progressive Conservative leader and current premier incumbent David Alward has expended a considerable amount of political credit on pushing for further hydraulic fracking development in the province. He is the only leader decidedly on the ‘yes’ side.
Alternatively, his greatest opponent, Liberal leader Brian Gallant, opposes the idea and proposes a moratorium. He also says the province, nearly $12 billion in debt, should instead spend $900M over six years on infrastructure.
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Polls indicate that voters in New Brunswick may be split on the issue. According to a poll conducted in 2013, 48 percent of New Brunswickers felt shale gas was critically important, where as 44 per cent is not very important or not important at all to the economy.
So what is the fracking problem?!
For those of you who are not energy extraction specialists – fracking is when water pumped at high pressure and volume, into a well with chemicals and sand. Cracks form in the earth a mile or two below the surface, sand wedges itself in those cracks, and the open cracks release gas into the well pipes. Fracking takes approximately a week. The equipment is then removed, as the gas continues to flow for years or decades to come.
The industry is over 60 years old.
New Brunswick is thought to sit on approximately 90 trillion cubic feet of shale – the thickest shale gas reservoir in North America. It is also an Atlantic seaport which means that New Brunswick has the potential of becoming a major energy-export hub, diversifying Canadian trade further with economies beyond the United States.
MORE: Gas boss tells New Brunswick party leaders: Let us frack!
Although rich in natural resources, New Brunswick is poor. More specifically, it is the third-poorest province in Canada. In 2013-14, the have-not province received $2.5 billion through major federal transfers, accounting for approximately 32% of its annual revenues.
Based on information from a recent report by Deloitte for the New Brunswick Business Council, Alward argues that a medium-sized development (approximately 25 wells per year) could attract $300 million in direct investment and 500 new jobs.
Assuming the shale-gas deposits outlive a decade, which they have in Alberta and other provinces, New Brunswick could be looking at $3 billion in direct revenue over a 10-year program.
Furthermore, Frank McKenna, former Premier and leader of the New Brunswick Liberals, estimated that the industry could generate more than $7 billion in royalties and tax revenues – an increase in revenue that eclipses the province’s deficit. Never mind revenue from spinoff industry development.
But not everyone is excited.
Critics argue that all forms of energy production have environmental consequences, and fracking is no exception, with water contamination cited as the biggest risk.
The thing is, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s definitive review of fracking and its potential for contaminating groundwater, there are no proven cases of fracking-related contamination.
In fact, accounts of contaminated groundwater were found to have nothing to do with hydraulic fracking. In addition, the horizontal and vertical distance between the drinking water well and the closest methane gas production wells means that the possibility of contamination or endangerment of groundwater is extremely unlikely.
Fracking is safe, and widely practiced for decades.
So how can someone like Gallant outright argue that the fracking industry is not proven to be safe. Or media party golden boy, Federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, say that fracking is, “a technique that’s shown to have an impact on groundwater and it’s injecting chemicals into bedrock and into the earth.”
Sadly, there has been skepticism that the dissemination of false information about the industry may be in part due to uninformed anti-fracking celebrity movements. These uneducated PR ploys, used by celebrities in an attempt to stay relevant, can be incredibly detrimental in the implementation of sound public policy , regardless of what the truth really is.
Come the night of September 22, New Brunswick’s economy could be in the hands of someone who relies on celebrity-grade information to inform their choices.
Or New Brunswickers could say yes.