FREDERICTON • The decision by SWN Resources Canada to suspend its drilling plans in New Brunswick and invest elsewhere prompted angry questions in the legislature on Tuesday about the Liberal government’s attitude toward industrial development.
Opposition Tory Leader Bruce Fitch asked Premier Brian Gallant in question period whether he had any idea how much money and how many jobs have disappeared with SWN’s determination that the proposed moratorium on hydraulic fracturing raises too many uncertainties.
“The sad reality of the situation is that now, in the sixth month of this government’s mandate, the government members are more confused than ever as to what to do with this gas moratorium,” Fitch said in the house.
“They scramble to figure out how they can meet the conditions or excuses that they made up a few months ago while gas supplies dry up and companies pull up stakes and leave the province with their investment dollars and their jobs that would have been created here if the Liberals had not gone forward with their moratorium”
Fitch obtained a letter under the right to information act from December in which SWN vice-president Jeff Sherrick advised the Office of the Premier that the company was going to”suspend our drilling plans and re-dedicate resources to projects in other jurisdictions.”
“Not knowing if or when the moratorium will be lifted makes it difficult for us to dedicate money to a project that may or may not go ahead in a given year,” Sherrick wrote in the Dec. 16, 2014, letter.
The gas company also stated its desire to continue exploration in the province.
SWN has requested a long-term extension of its licences to search, which it said would provide”the stability needed to effectively plan and lessen financial risk”
Energy Minister Donald Arseneault has said the licence application is under review, and a decision will be announced soon.
“The Opposition is all over the place,” Arseneault said in response to the Tory attack.
“When it comes to shale gas and hydraulic fracturing, we have been very clear for 2½ years. We will impose a moratorium in New Brunswick. Do you know why? It is because we care about what New Brunswickers have said all along. When the Opposition members were in government, they were not listening. We care that there is no social licence today to move forward with hydraulic fracturing. We care because we know that the royalty scheme is not maximizing the benefits for New Brunswick.We also care that the then government did not want to consult with First Nations, and we know how important that is. It is not only a moral responsibility, but it is also the law.”
SWN has 32 separate licences to search in New Brunswick, which expire on March 16.
The licences stretch over a combined total of 1,019,209 hectares of land – roughly one-seventh of the entire province – grouped into three main geographic blocks, including the McAdam, Doaktown and Richibucto area; from Petitcodiac to Shediac; and the Chip-man and Minto area.
Gallant did not answer Fitch’s questions about the SWN investment and potential lost jobs.
The premier said there was always a “de facto moratorium” on fracking because of the previous Tory government’s rules on waste water management.
“The industry itself said that it would not have been able to go forward as it was under the previous government,” Gallant told the legislature.
“I have asked this question,and I have yet to get an answer from the Opposition members. If they want to have a plan and want to fulfil one of the five conditions that we have listed to be able to lift the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, will their communities raise their hands and take the fracked waste water? We are waiting to know which one of your ridings, which of your communities, will take the fracked waste water.Under the last government,there was a moratorium because of its regulations on just that.”
Gallant repeatedly asked Fitch, who represents Riverview, whether that town would take the fracking waste water – a question the Opposition leader did not answer.
“The plans that were put forward by SWN Resources were concrete,” Fitch said
“They were budgeted. That was real money, and those were real jobs here in New Brunswick. We have many people coming back from out West who work in this industry and who are ready to go to work for SWN Resources. This is not a de facto moratorium that the premier is trying to deflect and about which he is trying not to answer a question. This was a drilling plan that was in place.”
Tory energy critic Jake Stewart said the last fracking done in the province did not produce any waste water.Therefore, he said it was not an impediment.
“By the way,Corridor Resources hired 75 people last summer for exploration alone,”Stewart said.
Gallant countered that the last fracking done in the province did not use water because there was a “de facto moratorium” based on the Tory waste water regulations.
“Under the last government, no fracking was happening with water because its regulations made it so that they had to have a fracking waste water management plan, which they did not,”the premier said.
“That begs the question – in whatever universe the members opposite want to be in, will their communities take the fracking waste water?”