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Barriers to Fracking Falling Away in New Brunswick

Defeat is in sight for a six-year crusade to keep “fracked” natural gas out of New Brunswick as a Canadian fortress of environmental purity, according to a provincial inquiry.

The question is no longer whether the product will break through, said the New Brunswick Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing. “The question New Brunswick residents must answer is how do we want to access hydraulically fractured natural gas?”

In a report the Liberal government ordered while enacting a moratorium last year against letting the practice into the province the commission asked, “Do we want to produce it ourselves or purchase it from existing shale gas-producing regions in the United States and Western Canada?”

Eco-resistance is dying on two fronts, the commission said. Frack-free domestic gas is running out from depleted wells at Nova Scotia’s Sable Offshore Energy Project (see Daily GPI, June 29, 2015) and nearby Panuke site (see Daily GPI, Nov. 12, 2015). The replacement is Spectra Energy’s Atlantic Bridge scheme (see Daily GPI, March 10).

The project calls for reversing and increasing flows on Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline (MNP), 16 years after its completion as an export and home region supply conduit for New England, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Anchor delivery customers have signed up for converting MNP into a Canadian import route. Proposals for East Coast liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals also rely on the service change (see Daily GPI, March 9). “U.S.-produced hydraulic fractured shale gas will arrive in New Brunswick by November 2017,” the report said.

New Brunswick has been a six-year Canadian test case of resistance against fracking spreading beyond established gas-producing areas in Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan.

Environmental and political battles began in March 2010 when the then-Conservative New Brunswick government granted a record drilling-rights package, spanning more than one million hectares (10,000 square kilometers, 3,860 square miles) to Houston-based Southwestern Energy Co. (SWN). The arrangement was the firm’s first venture outside the United States and required a commitment to spend C$47 million (US$35 million) in the Canadian province.

Over the next 20 months, 28 eco-groups combined forces as the Anti-Shale Gas Alliance and presented the New Brunswick legislature with a 16,840-signature petition against SWN’s plans. Preliminary exploration surveys continued but no drilling, although the Texas firm still vows to carry out the program.

The Conservatives lost power to the Liberals in a 2014 provincial election that was widely interpreted as a fracking referendum. The new government declared intentions to impose a moratorium in December 2014 and formally enacted it in June 2015 (see Shale Daily, Sept. 30, 2015).

The companion fracking inquiry reports encountered widespread disdain, creating an “impasse” with a wary population fighting energy and business interests. The standoff persists at the expense of economic development and job creation that New Brunswick needs as Canada’s poorest province, the inquiry commission said, reciting a lineup of tentative power and industrial projects that would all use gas.

The commission’s three-volume report examines technical and environmental issues in detail but adds, “The crux of the dilemma over shale gas isn’t just about the science -- it’s about the varying levels of trust New Brunswick residents have in all levels of government -- federal, provincial and municipal -- and the province’s resource sector.”

In Canada the science and engineering discussions swiftly escalate into free-for-all debates over a wide spectrum of issues from global climate change to relationships with aboriginal communities. “It quickly became clear that the root causes of the shale gas impasse are directly related to the process for identifying, evaluating and approving any resource development project.”

The commission urged the New Brunswick government to concentrate on creating an independent energy regulator, respected as much as the law courts, to provide trusted information and decisions accepted as fair by at least a population majority.

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