Jim Emberger Commentary, Telegraph Journal, 27 March 2016

Krista Ross’ [Fredericton Chamber of Commerce] recent commentary (12 March 2016) suggested that New Brunswick’s citizens are too unsophisticated to understand the science behind the risks surrounding shale gas, making them easy targets for shale gas opponents to manipulate with fear.

These condescending assertions are, fortunately, easy to dismiss. Our Alliance continues to direct the public to the hundreds of independent scientific studies that are now collected into a Compendium available at: http://concernedhealthny.org/compendium/.

For those without a science background, the site provides non-technical explanations of each study. We can’t guarantee that people won’t be scared after reading the studies, because fear is a valid response to threat.

We certainly don’t intend to frighten anyone with the following recent news about risk.

Last week, in Dimock, Pennsylvania, a court awarded $4.2 million to two families after finding that a shale gas company contaminated their water wells. The company settled dozens of related water contamination suits out of court.

Last summer’s US EPA report on hydraulic fracturing found cases of water contamination in every area and category that it surveyed, noting that large numbers of out-of-court settlements suggested even more cases. Even so, the EPA’s Science Review Board recently criticized the report for downplaying the number of cases and the severity of individual cases.

In November, Dr. John Cherry, groundwater contamination expert and chair of the Council of Canadian Academies report on shale gas, told New Brunswickers that government regulations regarding groundwater contamination were not based on science, because the necessary scientific monitoring has never been done.

In January a new study reconfirmed previous findings that the vast majority of chemicals used in gas extraction remain totally untested for human health effects, and of those that were tested, a great many are toxic and/or carcinogenic.

Last week, the US EPA stated that new studies show that fugitive methane emissions from the oil and gas industry are much higher than previous estimates. Methane is 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, over a 20-year period.

Canadian and US governments were ‘scared’ enough by this evidence to agree to a 40% cut in methane emissions, despite the increased costs to the industry.

February’s astonishing, all-time global heat record punctuated studies showing that the climate is changing much faster than thought at the Paris climate conference. Without immediate, drastic reductions in greenhouse emissions, temperatures will soon exceed the limits set in Paris.

Natural gas can no longer be a ‘bridge’ to the future, as envisioned five years ago, when gas proponents were touting ‘a golden age of natural gas.’  Has that age arrived?

In 2015, shale industries suffered dozens of bankruptcies with more expected.

SWN, New Brunswick’s largest gas leaseholder, barely survived by laying off nearly half of its employees and was not operating a single drilling rig at the start of 2016. SWN’s share price is in single digits, its bonds are junk status and it has been downgraded by credit rating agencies, like much of the industry.

Shale gas extraction is expensive and shale wells deplete alarmingly fast, leading to a cycle of continuous drilling, borrowing, oversupply, record low prices and eventually, financial collapse. This cycle remains unchanged.

Low-cost, fast-growing renewable energy increasingly out-competes gas. LNG export terminals remain unapproved, unfinanced or postponed, dimming the fantasy of gas exports.

Howard Rogers, Director of Gas Research at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, recently told The Financial Times, “There could not be a worse time to be embarking on challenging gas projects.”

Yet, Ms. Ross thinks that now is the time to tie our economic future to this fading industry, even if it means taking risks with water contamination, exposure to toxic chemicals, climate change and more.

She asserts that we should evaluate these serious risks in the same way we evaluate the risks of fishing or hiking, since everything has risks. This remarkable conclusion is not based on any valid logical argument or risk assessment methodology with which I am acquainted.

Perhaps, it’s simply an exaggeration meant to prey on our economic fears.

As for individual benefits to justify individual risks, a recent EPA study concluded that, “the income distribution of the population nearer to shale gas wells has not been transformed since shale gas development.”

Each citizen can decide which side in this argument honestly represents risk analysis, and which is manipulating the public. But consider this; essentially every jurisdiction that conducted a risk benefit analysis ultimately adopted either a ban or lengthy moratorium. Our government should follow in those footsteps.