Friday, 18 May 2012

Editorial: Proposals instead of regulations? Government's latest statement on shale gas management yesterday






Yesterday, Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup, and Environment Minister Bruce Fitch, presented 116 proposals in a discussion document to the people of New Brunswick for the management of the shale gas industry in the province.

The proposals are the precursor to what the two Ministers say are the toughest shale gas industry standards in North America, and after consultation with the public next month, will likely be brought forth in legislation before the end of the year.

The presentation of the proposals was unexpected. Many thought yesterday's announcement would be the regulations themselves, since the government had said after the Windsor Energy situation last year, they were formulating new regulations that they planned on making the strictest in North America. Northrup first said they would be out in January. But the month came and went with no announcement. On the province's natural gas website, March was given as the time for the announcement. But there was nothing in March. At a press conference in April giving a statement on the consequences of Windsor Energy violating Sussex municipal boundaries, Northrup gave no indication proposals were in the works. He told reporters regulations were expected to be brought forth in legislation at the fall sitting of the House.

Suddenly this week, a media advisory appeared on the provincial government website saying Northrup and Fitch would make an announcement yesterday. It was figured this was the long-awaited shale gas regulations announcement. However, that was not the case.

Along with a briefing by a panel of government experts, Northrup and Fitch presented a dense, three-booklet discussion document of proposals. This left reporters flat-footed because there was too much technical information to absorb before informed questions could be truly posed. Although the press gallery did it's best, there wasn't really enough time to ask penetrating questions.

It is curious why the government has decided to consult the public on the proposals. Last year, most meetings with the general public were raucous and hostile, with many opposed to the idea of the shale gas industry in the province. The meetings got a more positive reception from special interests groups and business back then. Perhaps the public will know why soon since the times and locations of the latest round of consultations are expected to be publicized on the natural gas website any day.

Northrup and Fitch said yesterday public feedback would be considered from the meetings and from online at the natural gas website. The two said the information could perhaps be included in the final regulation legislation in the fall. But with the Conservatives own CRA poll pegging public debate about shale gas at 50-50 and a Liberal poll showing 80% have concerns about the industry, the Alward government has it's work cut out for it in convincing the public shale gas fracking is good for NB. 

Regardless of what the polls say, it would seem they are moving full steam ahead, albeit "sailing a slow ship" as Northrup said yesterday. But even turtles reach their final destination eventually, so it is happening. This begs the question, is all of this proposal and consultation business so they can say they performed due diligence with the public before ramming the regulations through the House anyway?