Why Shale Gas is Out of Bounds

When we are children our parents establish boundaries or limits on our behaviour to keep us and the kids we play with safe, and to teach us to become responsible adults. Such limits exist in the broader world too. As long as we mind the boundaries we will be safe, but when we ignore them, we get hurt.

Our atmosphere and oceans can only absorb and recycle so much of the carbon pollution created when we burn gas, oil and coal. When the volume of pollutants exceeds these limits they disrupt our climate and acidify our oceans. This has begun.


The so-called greenhouse gases, mostly carbon and methane, are now released in such massive quantities that the capacity of the atmosphere and oceans to handle them has been swamped. We are now experiencing the early consequences of failing to stay within those safe operating boundaries.

Twelve years ago, New Brunswick recognized the problem and, together with our neighbouring provinces and states committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by mutually agreed targets for 2012, 2020 and 2050.   As a member of the G-8, Canada and its fellow member nations agreed that emissions needed to be cut by 80% by 2050 to stop the world from warming more than 2 degrees C, the point beyond which the consequences become severe.

Last year, the International Energy Agency (IEA) stated in its annual World Energy Outlook that two-thirds of the proven reserves of oil, gas and coal will have to stay in the ground if we are to avoid driving the world`s temperature beyond the danger point.

Now the kids who grew up to run oil and gas companies, and the kids who grew up to run governments that earn revenues from their activities are unwilling to accept such limits exist. That`s going to hurt us. They are like house guests who have had such a smashing could time that they refuse to go home when the party is over. They start breaking the furniture and abusing the hosts. You just know it`s going to end badly.

This is lost on Stephen Harper and David Alward. They must be brothers from another planet. They insist our future depends on digging up and pumping out all the bitumen, oil and gas that can be found. In New Brunswick`s case, this means promoting the fracking of shale rock kilometres beneath our province's surface to release the natural gas it contains, which of course is only going to make the problem worse.

Fracking for shale gas releases methane into the atmosphere, as does pumping it through pipelines to the United States, where it will then get burned in power plants and factories releasing even more pollution. We can`t go there.

New Brunswick already contributes far more to the problem for its size than many other places in the world. It would be irresponsible to make matters worse.

Neither New Brunswick, nor Canada have set a legal limit on carbon and methane pollution. To do so would put limits on the growth of the oil and gas industry. A second refinery for Saint John would be forever off the table. Shale gas would stay deep underground. And there would be no east-west pipeline as growth in the tar sand would be curtailed.

For conventional politicians, bankers, and oil industry execs, such limits are inconceivable. That`s why, Frank McKenna when he was visiting New Brunswick a few weeks back said he recognized climate change was a serious problem, but that shale gas needed to be exploited. The problem is you can`t suck and blow at the same time - not even Frank can do that.

Shale gas exploitation is being trumpeted as New Brunswick`s ticket to the big time. Let the oil and gas companies frack around our rural communities and it will be like money for nothing. Only it`s a lie. People will get hurt, and not just those living in rural New Brunswick. Those who are not present - our future children and grandchildren will find the world a less hospitable place than we found it if we don`t break our economic dependence on oil and gas now. For some people in the world, their homes will become uninhabitable altogether.  

Signing on to the oil and gas gravy train is a temptation that is almost impossible to resist. I understand that. But resist we must. Mother Nature does not negotiate. Her boundaries are clear and we must mind them. That`s why there is a Green Party. The other parties don`t get it.

All over New Brunswick there are people who are working to reshape our economy to one that is more localized, less dependent on fossil fuels, and serves the interest of the community as a whole.   These enterprises are small and medium sized businesses, cooperatives and social enterprises which are creating jobs and planting the seeds of a sustainability revolution in our province.   As Leader of the Green Party, this is what I am working to encourage.

David Coon is the Leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick.