Creating trust and opportunity with natural gas

Contributed to The New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal
Tim McMillan
President and CEO
Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
February 04, 2015
A few days ago, CAPP received an email from a person in New Brunswick who was responding to an op-ed I wrote for the Telegraph-Journal late last year.

In that article, I said a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing is unwarranted and will result in a missed economic opportunity for New Brunswick.

"It's a question of trust," the letter writer argued. "It's just not there."

Experience shows public confidence and trust in our industry are highest in communities where we operate, where we demonstrate every day that what we do is safe and responsible, where we are part of the community and where we contribute to the community.

Not surprisingly, we share Premier Brian Gallant's commitment to the safe, responsible and sustainable development of New Brunswick's natural resources. We agree development should only proceed in a manner that is safe for the public and the workers operating it, and that protects the environment through world-class regulations.

This is the case in jurisdictions where our industry operates. Given our industry's track record of safe, responsible and well-regulated development, we believe we can work with the government to achieve the five conditions without a moratorium.

One of the government's conditions for allowing hydraulic fracturing states social licence - or as we call it, public confidence - must be in place. Unlike a regulatory approval for an energy project, public confidence doesn't come from a piece of paper that clearly states the terms and conditions under which development can proceed.

As it relates to the natural gas industry, trust is the core element of public confidence: trust the industry will develop natural gas safely and responsibly, and trust the regulator will protect the environment and quality of life in New Brunswick.

Here's the question though: How can our industry earn public confidence in New Brunswick without actively demonstrating we operate safely and in an environmentally responsible manner?

Part of the answer is to examine the record in British Columbia and Alberta, where hydraulic fracturing has been used safely for more than 60 years, the result of robust regulations and industry best practices. For example, more than 175,000 wells have been hydraulically fractured safely in B.C. and Alberta without impacting drinking water, according to regulators.

Another way is to review sound scientific research, such as the Council of Canadian Academies report and the David Wheeler report in Nova Scotia, that examined hydraulic fracturing and concluded a moratorium is not necessary.

That's all powerful evidence. We will continue to share it extensively with local communities at open houses, in consultations with the government and through the media.

But ultimately, the best way to build public confidence is by actively demonstrating through day-to-day work that what we do is safe and responsible. Our record speaks for itself. For example, there have been no reports of drinking water contamination related to the 49 hydraulic fracturing operations that have occurred in New Brunswick since 1985, and the 29 natural gas wells that are currently producing and serving customers.

We can and should seek to improve from a sound baseline of experience. Where areas for improvement are identified, we expect industry to listen to local concerns and to change operating practices according to scientific evidence. In these cases, we also expect regulators to strengthen regulations. This has always been the case.

The New Brunswick government recognizes the importance of natural resource development and energy projects, and it supports the Energy East pipeline and the potential conversion of the Canaport LNG terminal to be an export facility.

Developing New Brunswick's onshore oil and natural gas resources should be part of the province's economic future and the government's vision of responsible natural resource development.

So my reply to the person who took the time to share his perspective with us - and indeed, everybody else in New Brunswick - is this: our industry has worked hard to build trust in other provinces by demonstrating that what we do is safe and responsible, and given the opportunity in New Brunswick, we will work hard to earn your trust. We remain committed to developing New Brunswick's onshore natural gas resources as safely and responsibly as we do elsewhere in Canada.

Canada's economic strength and prosperity rests on our ability to develop and market our natural resources. We should be proud of our natural gas and oil potential, and we should be proud of the safe and responsible manner in which these resources are developed.

It's an opportunity that should be seized.