Hydraulic fracturing doesn’t appear to have a bright future in New Brunswick.
New Premier Brian Gallant says his Liberal government will follow through on a campaign promise to ban fracking.
But if it happens, don’t expect Frank McKenna, who once upon a time held the job Gallant has now, to be patting the rookie premier on the back for it.
In fact, McKenna is wildly in favour of seeing fracking continue in the province – a point he made loud and clear during a speech at the Atlantica Centre For Energy’s annual conference in Saint John on Friday.
In the speech, McKenna pointed out his home province suffers from a number of problems: a rapidly aging population,unemployment, outmigration due to that unemployment, a cycle of high deficits and more.
McKenna went on to say the way out of this mess is, partly, to develop New Brunswick’s hydrocarbon resources – chiefly its onshore shale gas reserves.
But developing them requires fracking, something that will be difficult to do if there is a ban on the controversial extraction practice.
So how to convince the governing Liberal party, and New Brunswick residents, that fracking is OK?
McKenna says that fracking advocates are facing two major challenges on this front: “The fear of the unknown, and secondly, what I loosely call the law of groups.”
On overcoming the first challenge, McKenna told conference attendees that much more could be done to “demystify the extraction industries.” In short, McKenna was calling out the oil and gas industry for not doing a better job explaining to the public what it does and how it does it.
“Somehow, we need to make people feel more comfortable,” he said. “They’re certainly not going to get more comfortable listening to people like me. The best people to do that are people who actually work in the sector.”
As for overcoming the second challenge, McKenna suggested that Gallant needs to show strong leadership and not give in to what he considers a small, but extremely vocal, anti-fracking minority in the province.
“Good governments do not allow mob rule. They seize control of the agenda, they communicate, they make decisions and lead,” he said. “The bottom line is we cannot allow public policy to be decided by the biggest blowhard.”
Strong words from McKenna. But will those words have any impact?