DEVELOPMENT OF OUR NATURAL RESOURCES VERY IMPORTANT FOR OUR ECONOMIC WELL-BEING
Over the last decade, perhaps no public policy question has created as much discord in New Brunswick as “energy”. Virtually everyone wants to see better services and outcomes in “health” and “education”; however, there are widely divergent opinions on energy.
While there is widespread agreement on the attractiveness of renewable energy (solar, wind, tidal, etc.), there is little understanding of the capability of New Brunswick to rely on these for significant ‘base’ energy for at least the next 30-40 years. Research into possible energy storage methods has the potential to move this timeline somewhat more quickly. Nor is there an acknowledgement that every energy source will be associated with environmental and social impacts to lesser or greater degrees. In reality, virtually every human endeavour creates environmental consequences. The real policy issue is to mitigate impacts while maximizing benefits.
Some examples include:
1. NB promotes pelletized wood, which, when burned, give rise to high particulate emissions, and cause significant impacts to local air quality.
2. Most people want and drive cars (or use public transportation) which will use fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. Even electric vehicles are usually fueled by power generated by fossil fuels.
The positive outcomes of natural gas (CH4) in terms of environmental impact are very significant.and the GHG contribution is far less than the fuels that CH4 will displace.
CH4 is a fossil fuel, so it emits “new” CO2 during combustion. But:
o Emissions are 50% those of coal for the same power
o Emissions are 33% those of coal (or lower) if compressed air energy storage is used to drive natural gas turbines.
o Good outcomes if it replaces fuel oil or wood burning stoves…
• CH4 also burns without PM2.5, no mining, no significant environmental impacts such as associated with oil, coal, wood
• CH4 used as part of a power grid with wind power and energy storage is a remarkably flexible “hybrid” system allowing much more renewable power to be fed into the grid, yet maintaining good reliability and system resilience to meet improbable cases. This means CH4 is an aid to integrating renewables into existing grids.
• Health issues associated with PM2.5 can be eliminated
• It is even possible to have methane replacing gasoline and diesel in the transportation systems of cities in NB, and encouraging citizens to consider CNG cars
• CH4 can be converted easily to methanol (CH3OH) which is used in hydrogen fuel cell cars (a liquid fuel rather than trying to compress and transport hydrogen)
• It is absolutely straightforward to replace some of the fossil CH4 with biogenerated gas, if this is deemed appropriate
• Groundwater comtamination risks from CH4 pipelines are extremely small.
• CH4 is buoyant in air, ifa pipeline ruptures, the CH4 goes up, not outward
• CH4 is the basic feedstock for ammonia, NH4OH, a valuable fertilizer that currently is imported
• CH4 is a valuable feedstock for the Saint John refinery to serve as a source of hydrogen to treat heavy oils. As/if more heavy oil from Alberta finds its way to Saint John, the need for CH4 will increase.
• CH4 can integrate easily with other biofuels, incineration of C-rich wastes, and other processes that are environmentally positive
New Brunswick has enacted a ‘moratorium’ on hydraulic fracturing (used for both oil and natural gas production, but mainly the latter) which has, in effect, been an outright ban on the process. Hydraulic fracturing is widely used in North America with few (although not zero) environmental and human health impacts. In fact, hydraulic fracturing has been practiced in New Brunswick for at least 10 years with no environmental, health or safety issues. The potential benefits of developing our natural gas resources are significant, including employment, tax and royalty income, as well as a degree of energy independence, and perhaps exports to other jurisdictions. Indeed, where gas lies below private property, appropriate policies could lead to royalty payments to both the Government and the landowner. In addition, there may be spinoffs in terms of development of downstream industry, as well as more competitive energy costs for businesses and residents in New Brunswick.
One has only to look at Ohio and Pennsylvania as wonderful “on-the-ground” case histories of how hydraulic fracturing and natural gas production has had dramatic economic benefits. This economic prosperity has come with very little, although not zero, environmental impact. Importantly, all of the Prophets of Doom who predicted various catastrophic outcomes have been proven to be False Prophets. They have no significant examples of widespread environmental degradation that have come about from the NG/HF activity, although of course there have been isolated accidents and incidents, AS WITH ALL INDUSTRIAL ACTIVITY.
Additionally, risks in NB are substantially less than in these American jurisdictions, for the following reasons:
• NB regulations are more stringent.
• Population density in potential development areas is far less than in much of the development areas in PA, OH
• There are over 400,000 legacy wells in PA alone,many of them at unknown locations, presenting unknown risks. In NB, there are very few legacy wells in the potential shale gas region (a dozen or two if you don’t include Stoney Creek and McCully Fields). The locations of these wells are known.
• Over 100 years at Stoney Creek Field and many years and wells at McCully Field have shown no detectable and impactive environmental consequence. Even the rates of leakage at Stoney Creek are modest, in comparison to some other jurisdictions…
• More recent HF use in Stoney Creek and elsewhere has had zero consequences…
• Technology has advanced considerably in the last decade(s) and is continuing to advance (e.g. sensors, detection, HF practices, HF modeling and monitoring, well completion approaches, well decommissioning approaches, scientific understanding of pathways and processes…)
• Any NB development rate would be far less than the rate evidenced in PA and OH, hence easily managed from a regulatory point of view, leading to better outcomes.
• Development now is inherently lower risk (at least perceived risk) that it would have been 6-8 years ago simply because we know so much more from the USA and western Canada shale gas developments.
Developments must be accompanied by appropriate and enforced regulations. The governments of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and New Brunswick each established “fracking” commissions to report on the advisability of permitting hydraulic fracturing. The reports all concluded that with appropriate regulations and oversight, fracking was an acceptable process which could yield significant economic benefits. They highlighted potential environmental concerns, but also noted that risks were manageable.
New Brunswick residents and businesses are currently in the unenviable position of relying on imported gas (and oil), which may become restricted or more expensive. The gas pipeline from Nova Scotia to New Brunswick and the US is reversible, and ‘fracked’ natural gas now enters New Brunswick from the United States. Indeed, there will be no gas from the offshore wells in Nova Scotia in a short few months. Interestingly, the development of fracked natural gas has helped the US to significantly lower its climate changing emissions because gas is replacing coal at a substantial rate. Meanwhile, coal and oil – heavy carbon emitting fuels – constitute a third of the energy sources New Brunswick uses to generate electricity. Energy predictions for New Brunswick indicate that the use of fossil fuels for primary power in New Brunswick will remain essentially the same as a fraction of all power sources over the next 25 years.
There is a wider political and economic context which is often overlooked in the fracking debate. Western Canada has a thriving energy industry where over 150,000 wells have been drilled and fracked over the years. Not only have there been relatively few adverse health effects, but New Brunswickers in huge numbers commute regularly to the West to work in the energy industry. The proceeds of the industry boost the revenues of the federal government and help fund equalization payments, of which New Brunswick is one of the highest per capita recipients. The point is that New Brunswick already benefits indirectly from fracking. It is more than a little hypocritical for opponents to refuse to allow fracking in this province.
Would it not make sense for New Brunswickers to work in an energy sector here than in Alberta? Would it not make sense for a recipient of equalization to make an effort to raise its own tax revenues and pay down its own bourgeoning debt? Would it not make sense for the province to insulate itself from the risks of imported energy?
While we can and should make renewables a larger portion of our energy mix, our economy and maintaining our provincial independence mean we should take advantage of our natural resources, as do our neighbours to the south and west. A commitment to develop clean New Brunswick natural gas to replace coal and fuel oil imports seems like an eminently reasonable economic and political goal.