FREDERICTON—A collection of business groups is calling on the New Brunswick government to lift its fracking moratorium, but opponents say it’s a last ditch effort to save a failing industry.
“When you look at the unemployment levels being as high as they are—almost 10 per cent unemployment in New Brunswick—certainly there are a lot of families in New Brunswick who could use the jobs at a time when our economy is really in a significant slump,” said Joel Richardson, vice-president of the New Brunswick division of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters.
Others in the group calling for an end to the moratorium are The True Growth Natural Gas Working Group, Atlantica Centre for Energy, the New Brunswick Responsible Energy Development Alliance and the New Brunswick Petroleum Alliance.
“We are encouraging the province to move forward so that we can attract investment and we can create jobs in New Brunswick, but the only way we’re going to be able to do that is if there is no moratorium,” Richardson said.
He said exploration companies won’t invest in the province as long as the moratorium is in place.
Energy Minister Donald Arseneault could not be reached for comment March 28.
Just two weeks ago, SWN Resources announced it was closing its office in New Brunswick amid uncertainty about the timetable for developing the shale gas industry in the province.
New Brunswick’s Liberal government imposed the moratorium in December 2014 to allow for time to address public concerns.
The biggest public issue is the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. It’s a process where fluids or gas and chemicals are pumped underground at high pressure to fracture layers of shale rock to release trapped pockets of shale gas. Environmental groups say the process threatens groundwater supplies.
Jim Emberger, spokesman for the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance, said the latest effort to lift the moratorium is an act of desperation for an industry beset by rising environmental concerns and falling commodity prices.
“The market for this product is disappearing at the same time that its price has cratered,” he said Monday.
“Last week, Canada and the United States signed an agreement to reduce methane emissions from gas and oil production by 40 per cent, which is going to add more expenses to the industry. The reason they did this is because they found out that methane emissions have grown by leaps and bounds, much more than anyone anticipated.”
But Richardson said natural gas development has been without incident in New Brunswick since the early 1990s.
“We’re hopeful that with the proper environmental regulation and oversight in place that people will accept that it is a viable option and that the risk can be mitigated,” he said.
The government imposed five conditions when it imposed the moratorium, including a plan for regulations, waste-water disposal, a process to consult First Nations, a royalty structure and a so-called social licence.
Last month, a government-appointed commission called on the government to be more diligent in consulting aboriginal communities and set up a plan to deal with fracking wastewater.
It also called for an independent regulatory body as a first step in rebuilding lost public trust in oversight of the industry.