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Hassan Arif

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How Fracking Could Ruin New Brunswick

Posted: 12/04/2012 8:55 am

The debate over hydraulic fracturing for shale gas (fracking) is often presented as one of conservation versus economic growth -- in particular by proponents of the process, who claim that fracking is the only answer -- the "magic bullet" -- for job creation and economic growth in the province (even if opponents of the process have raised doubts about the job-creation potential).

Fracking is a new and unproven technology. There are serious risks to air and water quality from the chemicals pumped underground as part of the fracking process, and the storage of wastewater associated with the process. The risks of this process have been highlighted by the Cleary Report, by concerned citizens in this province, and by experts such as Anthony Ingraffea of Cornell University. In places where fracking is already occurring -- such as in Pennsylvania -- there have been issues with contaminated water supplies and well leaks.

In addition to these environmental and public health concerns, there is also an economic opportunity cost to fracking. The massive industrial operations associated with fracking would fundamentally change the character of New Brunswick's rural and natural landscapes. These landscapes are an attraction for tourism and (potentially) for new residents, as well as a being an important part of our province's identity as a smaller province of pristine natural and rural landscapes.

In a peer-reviewed article for the academic journal Landscape Research, social scientist Elizabeth O'Brien examined public attitudes towards forested landscapes in Vermont, a smaller jurisdiction like New Brunswick, through interviews and focus groups. The results showed that Vermont's forested landscape held important quality of life advantages, for example in being a source of recreational activities such as hiking and skiing among residents from Vermont's largest city, Burlington, who were originally from out of state.

The interviews showed that three of the Burlington residents interviewed had chosen lower paying jobs in Vermont because they wanted to be involved in outdoor activities and be closer to nature. The study further found that Vermont's forested landscape was important for local identity and pride.

Vermont is a destination for young professionals and entrepreneurs who want an alternative to larger cities such as New York City and Boston. New Brunswick has this same potential, both in attracting new residents and tourists, but only if the province's rural landscapes and pristine natural environments are preserved.

The use and enjoyment forests and other natural surroundings, while intangible and without a directly measurable monetary value, are important to account for. In addition to enjoyment and use values, they yield economic benefits in tourism and attraction of new residents -- something that comes from these intangible use values.

In previous articles for this online newspaper, I have cited the benefits of Vermont's policies of preserving its natural heritage (and advantages) -- in curbing sprawl, promoting city and town centres, preserving forests and farmlands -- and in this process reaping economic benefits from tourism and new residents.

Vermont's unemployment numbers have been consistently below US rates -- with September 2012 numbers being 5.4 per cent versus 7.8 per cent for the United States as a whole. On the creativity index -- a measure employed by economic development expert Richard Florida in aggregating indicators related to technology, talent/education of the workforce, and social tolerance -- Vermont's only metropolitan area -- Burlington-South Burlington -- ranked 15th out of 361 metropolitan areas in the United States.

Furthermore, in addition to IBM offices located in the state, Vermont boasts locally-based enterprises that have achieved international fame, including Green Mountain Coffee, Ben & Jerry's Ice-cream, and Burton Snowboards which was key in the development of the modern sport of snowboarding.

Vermont's natural advantages are a draw for entrepreneurs and professionals. This is something which New Brunswick policy-makers must be cognizant of. We need policy oriented to building a 21st-century creative economy with emphasis on investing in education, promoting high-tech and other entrepreneurial endeavours, and modernizing agriculture and forestry so they are sustainable enterprises in the 21st century.

There has been a public outcry against fracking in the province -- 20,000 New Brunswickers signed a petition calling for a ban on fracking. The opening of the New Brunswick Legislature saw a march through downtown Fredericton of New Brunswickers demanding a halt to new licenses and exploration, culminating in a demonstration on the grounds of the Legislative Assembly.

With the new Legislative session, the debate over fracking will almost certainly be at the forefront. In addition to the concerns about public health and environmental sustainability, the economic opportunity costs must be a central part of this debate.

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  • In this file photo from Oct. 14, 2011, a drilling rig is seen in Springville, Pa. State regulators blamed faulty gas wells drilled for leaking methane into the groundwater in nearby Dimock, Pa. It was the first serious case of methane migration said to be related to the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale gas field drilling boom. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, FILE)

  • British police secure the area where demonstrators erected a mock fracking rig with a banner reading 'No fracking in the UK' in a protest against hydraulic fracturing for shale gas outside the Houses of Parliament in London on December 1, 2012. AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLIS

  • SPRINGVILLE, PA - JANUARY 18: A truck with the natural gas industry, one of thousands that pass through the area daily, drives through the countryside to a hydraulic fracturing site on January 18, 2012 in Springville, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MAY 30: Protestors stage a demonstration against fracking in California outside of the Hiram W. Johnson State Office Building on May 30, 2013 in San Francisco, California. Dozens of protesters with the group Californians Against Fracking staged a protest outside of California Gov. Jerry Brown's San Francisco offices demanding that Gov. Brown ban fracking in the state. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

  • People demonstrate on August 3, 2013 in La Petite Brosse, near Jouarre, outside Paris, to protest against an exploratory oil shale drilling, considering that it opens the door to the exploration of shale gas in the Parisian Basin. Banner reads 'Stop gas and oil shale'. AFP PHOTO / PIERRE ANDRIEU

  • In this Nov. 26, 2012 photo, Steve Lipsky demonstrates how his well water ignites when he puts a flame to the flowing well spigot outside his family's home in rural Parker County near Weatherford, Texas. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had evidence a gas company's drilling operation contaminated Lipsky's drinking water with explosive methane, and possibly cancer-causing chemicals, but withdrew its enforcement action, leaving the family with no useable water supply, according to a report obtained by The Associated Press. The EPA's decision to roll back its initial claim that hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” operations had contaminated the water is the latest case in which the federal agency initially linked drilling to water contamination and then softened its position, drawing criticism from Republicans and industry officials who insisted they proved the agency was inefficient and too quick to draw conclusions. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

  • In this file photo of Jan. 17, 2013, Yoko Ono, left, and her son Sean Lennon visit a fracking site in Franklin Forks, Pa., during a bus tour of natural-gas drilling sites in northeastern Pennsylvania. Ono and Lennon have formed a group called “Artists Against Fracking,” which has become the main celebrity driven anti-fracking organization. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

  • In this March 29, 2013 file photo, a worker checks a dipstick to check water levels and temperatures in a series of tanks at a hydraulic fracturing operation at a gas drilling site outside Rifle, Colorado. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

  • In this March 29, 2013 file photo, a worker switches well heads during a short pause in the water pumping phase, at the site of a natural gas hydraulic fracturing and extraction operation outside Rifle, in western Colorado. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

  • In this March 29, 2013 file photo, workers tend to a well head during a hydraulic fracturing operation at a gas well outside Rifle, in western Colorado. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

  • Josh Fox, director of the anti-fracking, Oscar-nominated documentary “Gasland” testifies during a House Committee hearing on oil drilling, "fracking" legislation at the Illinois State Capitol Tuesday, May 21, 2013, in Springfield, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

  • This is a Thursday Aug. 15, 2013 image of the Cuadrilla exploration drilling site in Balcombe, southeast England. (AP Photo/Gareth Fuller/PA)

  • A child plays near a farmers' protest in an area where oil company Chevron plans to put a drilling rig exploring for shale gas in the south-eastern Polish village of Zurawlow on June 11, 2013. AFP PHOTO / JANEK SKARZYNSKI

  • Protesters hold a banner during a protest outside of the Momentive resin plant, Monday, July 8, 2013, in Morganton, N.C. Dozens of environmental activists blocked a chemical plant Monday to protest against the company's sale of products used in the natural gas drilling process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. (AP Photo/The News Herald, Mary Elizabeth Robertson)

  • A fracking rig exploring for shale gas of oil company Chevron on June 11, 2013 in a village of Ksiezomierz in south-eastern Poland. AFP PHOTO / JANEK SKARZYNSKI

  • People demonstrate on August 3, 2013 in La Petite Brosse, near Jouarre, outside Paris, to protest against an exploratory oil shale drilling, considering that it opens the door to the exploration of shale gas in the Parisian Basin. AFP PHOTO / PIERRE ANDRIEU

  • Opponents of hydraulic fracturing in New York state attend a news conference and rally against hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, on January 11, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Eric Weltman of Food & Water Watch attends a news conference and rally against hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, in New York State on January 11, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Opponents and supporters of gas-drilling, or fracking, walk into the last of four public hearings on proposed fracking regulations in upstate New York on November 30, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

  • Engineers on the drilling platform of the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

  • Engineers at work on the drilling platform of the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

  • General views of the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

  • Engineers look at the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

  • A lump of shale rock on display at the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

  • Engineers on the drilling platform of the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

  • Engineers at work on the drilling platform of the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

  • Drill heads on display at the entrance to the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

  • An engineer displays a lump of shale rock at the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)

  • Actor/director Mark Ruffalo (C) speaks at the Hydraulic Fracturing prevention press conference urging the protection of the drinking water source of 15 million Americans at Foley Square on April 25, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images)

  • (L-R) Actor/director Mark Ruffalo, Denise Katzman, Wenonah Hauter, and Water Defense co-founder/campaign director Claire Sandberg attend the Hydraulic Fracturing prevention press conference urging the protection of the drinking water source of 15 million Americans at Foley Square on April 25, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images)





 

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