FREDERICTON – A moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, imposed by New Brunswick’s Liberal government in December 2014, will remain in place indefinitely, the province’s energy minister announced Friday.
“We have been clear we would not allow this activity to go forward unless our five conditions were met,” Donald Arseneault said.
“Creating jobs is our number one priority, but not at any cost. It is clear that our conditions cannot be satisfied in the foreseeable future.”
The Liberal government’s conditions included a plan for regulations and waste-water disposal, a process for consultation with First Nations, a royalty structure, and a so-called social licence.
Arseneault was responding to a report from the commission on hydraulic fracturing which was released in February.
That hefty, three-volume document offered a long list of recommendations to follow if government were to allow a shale gas industry to grow in the province.
Among its recommendations were a single independent regulator, a plan for waste water disposal, a new strategy for environment and energy, and a new relationship with Indigenous people.
Arseneault said there was no way the industry could proceed right now because of the situation left by the previous Progressive Conservative government of premier David Alward.
“We’ve inherited a situation from the last government that really brought this industry where it’s at today. The way they conducted themselves and the relationship that really deteriorated with First Nations made it such that we had no choice but to put a moratorium in place in the province of New Brunswick,” he said.
The Alward government’s decision to embrace the shale gas industry was polarizing in the province, where a series of public protests culminated in a violent demonstration in the fall of 2013 in Rexton that saw 40 people arrested and six police vehicles burned.
Mi’kmaq chiefs in New Brunswick welcomed news that the moratorium will remain in place, and said they see it as an opportunity for the province to mend its relationship with First Nations communities.
But Fort Folly First Nation Chief Rebecca Knockwood said it’s time for Arseneault to stop blaming the previous government.
“Two years into this mandate the Gallant government can no longer pin the strained relationship on the former government. They are not meeting their constitutional obligation to consult First Nations on Sisson Mine or Energy East,” she said.
Interim Progressive Conservative Leader Bruce Fitch criticized the decision to maintain the moratorium. He said the Liberal government is failing to move the province forward.
“They have actually hurt the province in many, many ways,” he said. “Driving the opportunity for investment out of the province of New Brunswick is another example of how this government says one thing and does another.”
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers expressed disappointment with the move in a news release.
“Industry has been working with the government to ensure world-class regulations and environmental protection is in place,” said Paul Adams, manager of Atlantic Canada and the Arctic.
“The decision to extend the moratorium is a step in the wrong direction and sends a negative message about attracting investment to grow the economy.”
But Samir Kayande, an analyst with Calgary-based RS Energy Group said he doubts there would be any shale gas development now in New Brunswick even if the moratorium was lifted.
“There’s a lot of gas in North America right now. So the focus among investors and the focus among industry has been trying to reduce the cost of what is already known, and available, and will last us for many, many years into the future,” he said.
Kayande said it takes a lot of money and time to develop a shale gas play, and the conditions don’t favour that happening any time soon in New Brunswick.
“There’s just not a price environment right now that is amenable to future resource development in exploratory areas,” he said.
The Conservation Council of New Brunswick and Green party Leader David Coon both applauded the decision to maintain the moratorium.
“The decision of the government is consistent with the logic presented by the commission on hydraulic fracturing and is certainly compatible with the vision of the Green party to follow the transition towards a green economy,” Coon said.