Natural gas is a 'generational opportunity'

Contributed to Telegraph Journal
Sheri Somerville
Natural Gas Advisor
Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
September 30, 2015

It’s a revealing statistic: natural gas energy use in our province rose nearly 160 per cent in the last decade, according to Statistics Canada.

Granted, we started from a low base of natural gas use early last decade. But this dramatic increase shows a growing number of industries, businesses and households are choosing natural gas as their preferred energy source.

Many large industrial consumers here have switched to natural gas, and more than 12,000 households and businesses are now using this cleaner-burning fuel as a source of heat.

However, while New Brunswickers are deciding to use natural gas as an increasing part of the province’s energy mix, we must still decide where future supplies will come from, considering offshore natural gas supplies are expected to decline.

Our industry’s view is that New Brunswick’s oil and natural gas resources can be developed safely and responsibly, and that environmental protection, public health and the economic benefits resulting from development can be achieved together. That’s a winning formula for New Brunswickers.

What I often hear in public forums across the province is this: many people want a cost competitive, cleaner energy source and would be comfortable with developing natural gas if there’s independent scientific research that shows hydraulic fracturing is safe.

There are several studies, all available online, that support the idea that development can proceed with the right protections and regulations in place. Additional information is also available on the New Brunswick Responsible Energy Development Alliance website.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s exhaustive study of hydraulic fracturing, which examined hydraulic fracturing in the U.S., concluded: “We did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water sources in the United States.” The study, its authors say, advances the scientific basis for further improvements to environmental protection measures.

This conclusion is similar to a report by EY, a consulting firm that investigated whether the regulatory framework in British Columbia protects the public and the environment. The report concluded: “Our investigation of the hydraulic fracturing framework in B.C. has determined that the issues presented by hydraulic fracturing are being effectively managed by the [BC Oil and Gas Commission, the provincial regulator]” and that the regulator is “well placed to engage in continuous improvement and respond to new issues as they arise.”

Other studies, including reports by the Council of Canadian Academies, the Nova Scotia Independent Review Panel report and The Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering in the U.K., concluded potential risks can be managed effectively and that hydraulic fracturing, under robust regulations, industry best operating practices and environmental monitoring, can be done safely.

Where areas for improvement are identified, we expect regulators to modify regulations and industry to change operating practices accordingly. This has always been the case and will continue to be the manner in which our industry operates. We can and should continue to seek improvement from a sound baseline.

People also ask about potential health impacts related to industry. This was studied in northeastern B.C., where our industry has been active for many years. The report, prepared for the B.C. government, concluded public health risks associated with oil and natural gas activities in the region are low. Specifically, the report says that while some areas, such as emergency planning and fugitive emissions, may warrant further consideration, “the existing regulatory framework in B.C. is both extensive and protective of human health.”

It’s important to note New Brunswick, in 2013, introduced rules for industry that are considered to be tougher and stronger than those in other jurisdictions. Protecting the health of the public, our employees and the environment is paramount. If New Brunswick decides to develop its natural gas resources, our industry will only be able attract workers if we offer them a safe working environment. No one wants to work on a jobsite that’s not safe and not properly regulated. No development project should proceed if it puts people or the environment at risk. 

In New Brunswick, we have produced oil and natural gas using hydraulic fracturing for more than 10 years, with no impacts on health or the environment, and have grown the economy as a result. In fact, companies have invested more than $600 million exploring and developing oil and natural gas in the province.

Our province has the potential to meet growing demand at home with a homegrown industry.

Importing natural gas from regions that allow hydraulic fracturing while choosing to pass on the opportunity to grow our economy and provide jobs to people here, or to those who wish to come home, is a less-than-ideal alternative.

Developing our oil and natural gas is a generational opportunity, one we should not miss.