With the release of the New Brunswick Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing final report on February 26, 2016 the process of lifting the government’s moratorium can begin in earnest. A moratorium is, by its very definition, a temporary measure in this case imposed so that “...risks to the environment, health and water are fully understood.” (2014 NB Liberal Party Platform). Whether we can ever fully understand the risks to anything is debatable the more pertinent question for hydraulic fracturing is what level of risk are we willing to accept.
In some ways, this is a much more difficult conversation. There are few things that people are worse at than assessing risk think: are people more afraid of spiders or obesity? Now: which is more of a threat? We are all susceptible to our most basic fears, but that doesn’t mean we should give in to them. Of course we all want clean water. Of course we want our children and grandchildren to grow up in a healthy environment. Of course we don’t want to destroy our land to make a buck. But if we want future generations to live and work and play in New Brunswick we also need to give them an economic reason to stay here.
Everything has inherent risk attached to it yes, including hydraulic fracturing and yes, including doing nothing. We are already feeling the effects of this latter path. How many of us know a New Brunswicker that has reluctantly moved away for work? And what do these people consistently say? I want to make a better life for my family. Are we really prepared to accept that our friends and neighbours and family don’t believe that is possible in New Brunswick? What message does that send to the rest of the world?
Citizens in Kings and Albert counties have accepted the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing for the past 15 years and have experienced no negative environmental effects. The same is true in jurisdictions throughout the continent. What do these places have in common? Effective regulations. We are able to regulate forestry, insurance, mining, driving a car, smoking, tanning beds, food and innumerable other activities why can’t we effectively regulate hydraulic fracturing? We’ve been doing just that since at least 1998.
I believe that opponents to hydraulic fracturing have their hearts in the right place. But the rhetoric and scare tactics used to suggest that hydraulic fracturing is inherently bad is unhelpful if the goal is a fulsome debate where the risks and benefits are understood. Opponents are targeting people who don’t have a strong opinion either way on hydraulic fracturing because they know that everyone has a strong opinion about protecting their water and local environment at all costs. Scaring them to the ‘anti’ side is easy work. It takes quite a bit of effort to consider all the evidence and to think about all of the angles (environmental, economic, social). Most people simply don’t have the expertise or time or interest to come to knowledgeable independent conclusions. Uncontextualized videos on the internet or what their neighbours are saying is about as deep as many people are researching and opponents count on this lack of engagement.
Opponents don’t have the same restrictions that experts do. Scientists are unwilling to make unequivocal blanket statements they won’t say that there is zero chance of an accident because that would be untrue. There is some risk. It doesn’t matter what little risk may exist any opening will do “so you’re saying there IS a chance.” And this brings the risk conversation full circle. There is a chance of an accident, but if the rewards outweigh the risks then we should do it. It’s why we drive cars, it’s why we fish, it’s why we hike in the woods all have potentially fatal risks, but we accept them.
There is no question that renewable sources of energy are becoming increasingly viable and we should take steps to prepare for this future. If there are companies wanting to make investments in New Brunswick, the government should try to facilitate those activities too. But in the world we currently live, fossil fuels continue to be the primary source of energy and this will be the case for decades perhaps beyond any of our lifetimes. To simply opt out of natural gas extraction based on uncertainty and fear is irresponsible. We urge the New Brunswick government to make the evidencebased decision and lift the hydraulic fracturing moratorium.
A December Corporate Research Associates poll found that 52% of New Brunswickers support the industry we also urge these citizens to make their voice heard as loudly as opponents to development. Educate yourself, write to your local MLA and perhaps most importantly speak up in conversations with your friends and colleagues.
Krista Ross is CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce. With more than 950 members, the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce is one of Atlantic Canada’s largest chambers of commerce. A dynamic business organization, the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce is actively engaged in policy development that affects the competitiveness of our members and of the Canadian business environment.