FREDERICTON - New Brunswick Premier David Alward is promising to deliver a blueprint this fall that will lay out how his government plans to proceed with shale gas development, an issue that has triggered roars of protests for months.
Alward made the commitment in his throne speech Thursday to kick off the fall legislative session, just as supporters and opponents of the shale gas industry rallied outside the provincial legislature.
He said the oil and natural gas blueprint will ensure a regulatory system is in place that includes adequate monitoring and enforcement before the province allows the industry to grow.
"Those are all things that we need to address to ensure that if we are able to develop natural gas in the future that we are going to have as big a benefit as we possibly can for New Brunswickers," Alward told a news conference before Lt.-Gov. Graydon Nicholas delivered the speech.
The possibility of shale gas development brings the promise of jobs and could be an economic boon at a time when the Progressive Conservative government grapples with a $10 billion debt, a $356 million deficit and an unemployment rate of 11.6 per cent — the province's highest in nearly a decade.
As the speech was delivered, outside a large crowd of people — both for and against shale gas development — marched on the front lawn of the legislature.
"New Brunswickers have not given consent to moving forward with a shale gas industry," said Mark Darcy.
"More than 20,000 New Brunswickers signed a petition a year ago, and we're still waiting for government to have public consultation before moving ahead with the industry."
But Lynn Farmakoulis said the province needs the shale gas industry if it is to get out of its financial mess.
"I think it's time we develop our resources and use them," Farmakoulis said.
"We have people who are working in oil and gas out west and I think we have a responsibility to look at this very seriously."
Following the speech, Liberal Leader Brian Gallant repeated his party's call for a moratorium on shale gas development until more research is done to protect the environment.
"New Brunswickers have a lot of questions that have yet to be answered and they are good questions," Gallant said.
"Developing our economy is a priority, but so is our drinking water."
Alward also used the throne speech to encourage NB Power to seek all avenues — including a possible lawsuit — in efforts to recoup the $1 billion in cost overruns for the refurbishment of the Point Lepreau nuclear power plant.
"If a lawsuit is something that makes sense, then that should be one of the options that is evaluated," he said.
The idea has been floated before by Alward and the previous Liberal government under Shawn Graham, but it has so far gone nowhere.
Point Lepreau returned to commercial service on Friday, more than three years after the project was supposed to be complete.
Alward also promised in the throne speech to strike a ministerial committee on jobs and the economy.
NDP Leader Dominic Cardy was critical of that announcement, saying the cabinet should be setting the agenda for job creation, not creating a committee to do it.
"It's as though this government is a spectator at a NASCAR race rather than realizing it's their job to be in the driver's seat and take the province in a different direction," Cardy said.
Gallant also called on the government to stop consulting and start making decisions on job creation.
"It's great to talk about plans, committees and studies, but at the end of the day we have to start creating jobs for New Brunswickers," he said.
Alward said he also wants to introduce efforts aimed at boosting the number of people moving into New Brunswick, as well as increasing the value of commercial exports leaving the province.
The throne speech made no mention of a catastrophic drug plan and the government's plans to balance the books by 2014, both of which were key promises the Tories made during the 2010 election.
Alward said his priority is dealing with the fiscal realities of today.
"Right now, we are focused on the work we need to do with this fiscal year and then to be able to build a budget for next year," he said.
The government also said it will deliver a three-year capital budget during this session and a five-year health plan next year. It also promised to consider recommendations of a committee that reviewed the Official Languages Act and introduce legislation next year.
Related on HuffPost:
PRO: Potential Energy Independence
Estimates by the <a href="http://www.eia.gov/pub/oil_gas/natural_gas/data_publications/crude_oil_natural_gas_reserves/current/pdf/arrsummary.pdf" target="_hplink">United States Department of Energy</a> put the number of recoverable barrels of shale gas at around 1.8 trillion. To put that into perspective, Saudi Arabia is estimated to have roughly <a href="http://www.opec.org/opec_web/en/data_graphs/330.htm" target="_hplink">2.6 trillion barrels of oil reserves</a>. Christopher Booker writes for <em>The Telegraph</em><a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/christopherbooker/8500496/Shale-gas-could-solve-the-worlds-energy-problems.html" target="_hplink"></a> that there are enough world reserves to "keep industrialised civilisation going for hundreds of years"
CON: Water Pollution
A <a href="http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/amall/incidents_where_hydraulic_frac.html" target="_hplink">blog post by the Natural Resource Defense Council</a> explains that "Opponents of such regulation [of fracking] claim that hydraulic fracturing has never caused any drinking water contamination. They say this because incidents of drinking water contamination where hydraulic fracutring is considered as a suspected cause have not been sufficiently investigated." It then goes on to list more than two dozen instances of water pollution to which hydraulic fracking is believed to have contributed. A <a href="http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20111104/gasfrac-propane-natural-gas-drilling-hydraulic-fracturing-fracking-drinking-water-marcellus-shale-new-york" target="_hplink">new waterless method of fracking</a> has been proposed, but environmentalists are skeptical.
CON: Leaks More Emissions Than Coal
Methane is a greenhouse gas and <a href="http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/technology_and_impacts/energy_technologies/how-natural-gas-works.html#enviroimpacts" target="_hplink">major component of shale's carbon footprint</a>. Cornell Professor Robert Howarth said about a study he conducted, "Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20 percent greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years."
PRO: Burns Cleaner Than Other Fossil Fuels
<a href="http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=natural-gas-could-serve-as-bridge-fuel-to-low-carbon-future" target="_hplink">Researchers at MIT found that</a> replacing coal power plants with natural gas plants could work as part of a plan to reduce greenhouse emissions by more than 50 percent.
CON: Hydraulic Fracking Has Been Linked To Earthquakes
<a href="http://oilprice.com/Energy/Natural-Gas/U.S.-Government-Confirms-Link-Between-Earthquakes-and-Hydraulic-Fracturing.html" target="_hplink">Several earthquakes both in the U.S. and abroad </a> have been linked to the hydraulic fracturing process. One British company, <a href="http://www.cuadrillaresources.com/cms/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Cuadrilla-Resources-Press-Release-02-11-11.pdf" target="_hplink">Cuadrilla Resources</a>, admitted in a report that its hydraulic fracturing process well "did trigger a number of minor seismic events."
<a href="http://www.treehugger.com/fossil-fuels/facts-on-fracking-pros-cons-of-hydraulic-fracturing-for-natural-gas-infographic.html" target="_hplink">The industry currently employs more than 1.2 million people</a> in the U.S., and the Department of Energy estimates that natural gas resources have increased nearly 65 percent due to fracking, according to a TreeHugger graphic. Additionally, <a href="http://www.bu.edu/energy/files/2011/07/Fracking-article-Sept-14-2011.pdf" target="_hplink">the gas industry accounts for about $385 billion</a> in direct economic activity in the country, a <em>Nature</em> piece reports.
CON: Companies Don't Have To Disclose Chemicals Used In Process
<a href="http://water.epa.gov/type/groundwater/uic/class2/hydraulicfracturing/wells_hydroreg.cfm" target="_hplink">Fracking is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act of 2005</a>, thus allowing companies to conceal the chemicals used in the process.
PRO: Buys Time To Develop Renewable Energy
Former chief of staff to President Clinton and former head of the Center for American Progress <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/could-shale-gas-reignite-the-us-economy-11032011_page_2.html" target="_hplink">John Podesta says natural gas can serve</a> "as a bridge fuel to a 21st century energy economy that relies on efficiency, renewable sources, and low-carbon fossil fuels."
CON: Requires Large Amounts Of Water
The fracking process can require around <a href="http://www.hydraulicfracturing.com/Water-Usage/Pages/Information.aspx" target="_hplink">five million gallons</a> of water. In some cases<a href="http://www.treehugger.com/fossil-fuels/facts-on-fracking-pros-cons-of-hydraulic-fracturing-for-natural-gas-infographic.html" target="_hplink"> less than a third of that water is recovered</a>.
1. Crude Oil Prices
It starts with crude oil. Although Canada may produce more oil than it consumes, the country is at the mercy of global markets for the commodity. Increased Middle East instability, sparked by popular uprisings, has lead to concerns about supply. Better-than-expected economic growth, especially in developing nations such as China and India, has also increased demand. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)
2. Refining Oil into Gas
The next link in the supply chain is refining. In order to turn thick, black crude oil into useful products such as gasoline, diesel, heating oil and jet fuel, it must be sent through a mind-boggling array of pipes and tanks, heaters and condensers to sort the components of the substance from lightest to heaviest. This is a complex and costly process, and is paid for by what is known as the "crack spread," or refining margin. This represents the difference between prices fetched for the products produced, and the cost of crude oil inputs.. (AP File Photo)
3. Transportation to Retailers
Once the oil has been refined into gasoline, it must be transported to retail outlets across the country. This is accomplished through a network of 23 terminals - from St. John's to Nanaimo, B.C. -- forming the backbone of the distribution network. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
4. Retail Mark-Up
The retail mark-up averaged 7.6 cents per litre in April. This national average masks wide variation, from lows of 4.6 cents in Calgary up to highs of 25.8 cents in Whitehorse, according to Kent Marketing Services, an industry consulting group. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
5.Taxes at the Pump
Emily Corbett of Mechanicville, N.Y., pump gas at a station in Mechanicville, on Wednesday, May 11, 2011. New York, Indiana, Illinois and New Hampshire are among the first states talking about temporarily suspending part or all of the state and local taxes that can add 14 cents to nearly 50 cents to a gallon of gas. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)