Betting big on shale gas

The lucrative industry is booming in New Brunswick

The Quebec government’s environmental worries have ground to a halt the drills driving shale gas development. But in neighbouring New Brunswick, the lucrative industry is booming with full provincial support.

Earlier this month, Quebec’s environment watchdog published a report recommending a shut-down of shale gas wells in the province until more research into their ecological impact can be conducted. Pierre Arcand, the province’s environment minister, announced a moratorium within minutes of the release. But Bruce Northrup, Arcand’s counterpart in New Brunswick, quickly followed the news by telling reporters that his government would not be enacting any similar restrictions. “We’ve been very clear since day one,” he said. “We’re not putting a moratorium on.”

This stance has angered environmental groups, such as the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, which have been quick to note that drilling in the United States has led to chemical spills and natural gas in drinking water. They say New Brunswick’s industry—which has seen $374-million worth of investment since the province’s natural gas reserves were discovered in 2000, and which could one day produce $225 million in annual royalties—must be halted to give the government time to beef up its regulations.

But Dave Keighly, a petroleum geology expert at the University of New Brunswick, disagrees. He says more than 100 years of oil and gas drilling has left New Brunswick well equipped to handle the shale boom. “Quebec does not have much of a history of oil and gas production,” he says. “New Brunswick’s history goes back to the mid-19th century—sufficient rules covering all types of oil and natural gas drilling are in place and can be enforced.” Northrup says his government has conducted public consultations and fact-finding missions to drill sites across North America, and is enforcing regulations.

And, he adds, his government will not let development go unchecked. So far, 65 wells have been drilled. “We’ve made a clear commitment to support the responsible expansion of this industry,” he says. “We’re sailing a slow ship.” But compared to Quebec, it’s full steam ahead.

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