Premier Blaine Higgs’ continuing desire to exploit shale gas and LNG can only be described as “perverse,” which the dictionary defines as “showing a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave in a way that is unreasonable or unacceptable, often in spite of the consequences.” Higgs referenced LNG development during his State of the Province address on Jan. 25.
“We have so many advantages with our direct access to the U.S. and international markets along with our rich natural resources including wind, minerals, water, forestry, and natural gas,” he said. “That’s where I believe we have a tremendous opportunity to punch above our weight and really impact global emissions.”
His obstinate, decade-long pursuit of shale gas, can reasonably be called obsessive. It begins with his continuing promotion of gas even after citizens voted out the Alward government, which ran on the issue.
As premier, Higgs has repeatedly attempted to revive shale gas by partially lifting the moratorium and by backing an LNG plant in Saint John, but these and other efforts never attracted investors. His campaign for gas continued even during the years when shale drillers were losing billions of dollars and going bankrupt.
An award-winning public health report by then-Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Cleary, and evidence presented to the Commission on Hydrofracturing, and contained in a lawsuit against the government, catalogued the serious health dangers of fracking. Neither these nor a myriad of other serious negative consequences from fracking caused Higgs to reconsider his crusade for gas.
But his current push for gas is particularly perverse, as it comes at a time when we must address the glaringly obvious matter of the climate crisis.
We just experienced the warmest year and decade in 125,000 years, accompanied by record-breaking heat waves, droughts, floods, storms, melting poles and glaciers, and forest fires in every part of the world, totaling a record number of climate-related disasters that each exceeded a billion dollars-plus in damages. Climate tipping points may have been passed or are rapidly approaching.
This was eye-opening enough that the nations of the world finally, and unanimously, agreed at the COP28 meeting to “transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems” and “reduce both consumption and production of fossil fuels in a just, orderly and equitable manner.”
In real numbers, for gas, that means that by 2030 we must reduce usage by 42 per cent — minimum — and that no new fossil fuel projects should be started. Canada signed a separate pledge to reduce the amount of methane (natural gas) emissions, as methane is 86 times more potent than CO2 in trapping heat, which can make it as bad as burning coal target.
The science journal Nature, summed up COP28 this way: “Phasing out fossil fuels is not negotiable. World leaders will fail their people and the planet unless they accept this reality. In the end, the climate doesn’t care who emits greenhouse gases…. This year’s climate extremes have made it all too clear that there is no truly safe level of warming, and every fraction of a degree matters.”
In response, U.S. President Joe Biden just paused the approval of all new LNG export projects (Higgs’ biggest fantasy) in the States, until their true effect on climate change can be ascertained.
The health effects of LNG’s large volumes of pollution on surrounding communities will also be investigated.
Shale gas production itself has also been shown to severely stress public health systems, especially hospitals, in many ways. Studies have associated fracking with a long list of diseases, such as birth defects, leukaemia, asthma, and heart disease, among others.
Fracking is a dangerous industry with lots of accidents, and the thousands of truck trips the industry requires are associated with increased traffic accidents. The heavy trucks also destroy roads and bridges, which cost millions to repair, while also hampering emergency vehicles. In a province with a struggling health care system and deteriorating infrastructure, shale gas is unacceptable.
The gas industry requires experienced workers, many of whom will come from other provinces. Studies of communities that host shale gas development show the industry brings with it higher rents and a spike in evictions.
New Brunswick is not unique: the financialization of real estate, a lack of government investment in public housing, and an over-reliance on market forces by policymakers has created a housing crisis. The gas workers could displace local residents, and they, like other immigrants to the province, would be blamed for a crisis they did not create.
In a province trying to preserve its forests, fracking will segment forests with networks of roads, well pads, compressors, pipelines, and parking areas.
And it must be noted that there is still no safe way to dispose of toxic fracking wastewater, nor has Higgs established any meaningful degree of social license in either settler or Indigenous communities.
Can such devastating climate, health, social and economic consequences be ignored, as long as the province can collect some royalties?
This is perverse and unacceptable, and Higgs’ business case is also unreasonable, as it is outdated and untrue.
After a period of adjustment, caused by the war in Ukraine, the European gas market is now well-supplied. Europe uses only a small portion of its coal to generate electricity, and has long-standing plans to retire its coal plants. There is little evidence to show that they will require more gas from Canada to do so, as Higgs asserts. Also, as the research mentioned previously indicates, replacing coal with LNG brings no climate benefits.
European gas demands have decreased and are predicted to continue decreasing. Some analysts predict a glut of gas in Europe, as it continues a huge buildout of renewable energy and heat pumps, making gas investments very risky.
Premier Higgs would do well to follow the European model of renewables, heat pumps, and conservation into the future, rather than perversely clinging to an unhealthy and destructive fossil fuel past that must end.
Years ago the International Energy Agency coined the phrase “the Golden Age of Gas.” It now states that the Golden Age “is over.”