The New Brunswick Energy Commission  released its Public Feedback Document on the province’s 10-year energy policy plan earlier this week. Despite recent public outcry and growing scientific concern about threats to drinking water, health and the global climate posed by fracked unconventional gas, the Energy Commission recommends continuing to develop heavily polluting dirty gas, contradicting both renewable energy and carbon emission reduction goals.
The province’s Premier asked the Energy Commission’s co-Chairs William Thompson and Jeannot Volpé to engage with the public on the province’s energy future beginning in October 2010. Today’s document was developed from more than 1,400 completed surveys submitted online, over 200 public dialogue attendee surveys, more than 60 stakeholder group meetings and some 75 public presentations.
The health risks  and environmental degradation (like pollution and overuse of freshwater ) that comes with unconventional shale gas extracted through hydraulic fracturing (fracking) are increasingly well known. The Commissioners, regrettably, are still fully supportive of rapidly expanding this dirty gas drilling boom as an economic asset and development tool, stating:
Because of its competitive cost, availability, and low environmental impact, natural gas should be considered the key transition fuel as we move from using other traditional fuels toward more renewable energy sources. Natural gas should be promoted to increase its use by consumers.
Unconventional gas extraction and use is promoted by the government as an economic silver bullet , and national and international oil and gas companies are already jumping into the province feet first, betting that this gas rush will deliver massive profits for years to come.
But how “clean” is this gas really? How can the N.B. government talk about the “low environmental impact” of unconventional gas when nearly everyday  we learn more about how dirty and unsafe fracked gas truly is?
New Brunswick is emerging as a key battleground since it is believed to hold North America’s largest shale gas reserves  [PDF]. Moreover, New Brunswick may also connect the Maritimes and Northeast Pipelines with the TransCanada Pipeline in Québec, growing gas exports to other provinces and to the U.S. in regular, compressed and liquid forms.
The Commissioners also recommend, in contrast with the call for shale gas expansion, expanding regional environmental protections, establishing targets for addressing climate change, and expanding renewable energies like solar, wind and tidal power. Achieving these goals will become much more difficult as more government support and public resources are devoted to unconventional gas exploitation.
According to the report, the public remains concerned over the lack of factual information around their energy options and how their energy decisions may have global impacts. Shale gas is methane intensive, a much more potent global warming gas than carbon dioxide, and therefore its exploitation in New Brunswick is expected to worsen global warming. This would counteract  the province’s efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from other sources.
Raphael Shay, Climate and Energy Coordinator at Conservation Council of New Brunswick (CCNB Action ), points out that the province must review the climate implications of an unconventional gas boom before expanding gas drilling.
“As we have seen from the floods, storm surges and rising costs of food, New Brunswick is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change…”
“We cannot afford to brush this issue under the rug. Our emission targets are already extremely low compared to what scientists are recommending. It is urgent that the Minister have her staff analyse the impact shale gas development will have on our climate targets as industry resumes its exploration activities this Spring.”
New Brunswick decision-makers should expand renewable energy use, bolsters climate pollution reduction targets, and follow the lead of their counterparts in putting the brakes on dirty gas fracking.
Opposition to unconventional gas drilling, particularly the fracking method, is growing across North America. In Québec , the public has turned against the gas industry , and fracking bans have been passed in Maryland  and proposed in New Jersey . Additionally, a permanent ban was proposed last week in New York .
There is a public protest  against dirty gas set for April 27th, 2011, in Rogersville, New Brunswick, at an open house organized by U.S. oil and gas conglomerate Southwestern Energy Co. (a.k.a. SWN Resources in Canada).
Additional feedback may be submitted  by e-mail to the New Brunswick Energy Commission at [email protected] , until May 6. As well, public input on any of the initial 49 recommendations included in the Public Feedback Document, and particularly gas resources, may be submitted here.
Read the New Brunswick Energy Commission’s Public Feedback Document in English  [PDF] and French  [PDF].