Is there ever a middle ground between environment and economy?

It’s not every day that environmental activists and economic development advocates enter into a win/lose battle as it seems to be the case with shale gas gas.  If you consider other natural resources – forests, agriculture, fish, even other minerals – most environmentalists advocate a certain type of exploitation but are not calling for an outright ban.  I guess that is the most perplexing part of the whole process.  As I mentioned previously a group of top environmentalists in Pennsylvania wrote a report that started with the premise that shale gas would be an important economic driver for that state and then went on to advocate for very strict rules around its development.

In New Brunswick, groups like the Conservation Council  make no such admission that shale gas will be an important economic driver.  Economics, it seems, doesn’t matter – or at least is peripheral.

When SWN ceased drilling citing ‘safety concerns’, the Conservation Council tweeted with unmitigated glee  that this was a great day for New Brunswick and New Brunswickers.  For me, the Council would have far more credibility on this if their position would be as follows:

This is a bittersweet day for New Brunswickers.  We firmly believe that shale gas drilling at this time is not the right thing to do.  At the same time we realize there could be a significant economic loss from not developing the industry.  For the hundreds, ultimately, thousands of people that would have been employed directly and indirectly, we will need to work doubly hard to attract other kinds of development to the province – otherwise these people will be force to move out of New Brunswick and, ironically for us, many will end up working in the oil sands and the oil and gas industry in Saskatchewan and British Columbia.

For the millions in lost revenue to the government, we also advocate for economic development in other areas and for tax rises and spending cuts to ensure the province is fiscally sustainable.  In the future, when we are satisfied that the environmental risks will be minimal we will support shale gas drilling in New Brunswick.

You will never see this position from the Council because, for them, that is not the point.  They are leading the fight against – and any nuance would – in their mind – eat into their position.

The problem is that most people – including myself – are not on the fringes – we are in the middle and see the world in a pragmatic way.  Most of us see the oil and gas industry supporting economies all over North America and and the world (i.e. the North Sea) and would be excited if it could happen here.  Most of us also watch movies like Gasland and read media reports and wonder if shale gas is as dangerous as we are being told by some.

I still keep contrasting this in my mind with the Costco on a wetland in Fredericton.  That was a spirited battle where environmentalists were adamant about the outcome but the huge difference was simple – there was almost no economic impact either way.

We cannot debate shale gas as if it was economically neutral – like Costco building on a wetland.

4 thoughts on “Is there ever a middle ground between environment and economy?

  1. I agree. The middle ground is called Sustainable Development… the balance between Economic Development, Social acceptability and Environmental protection. It is a difficult thing to achieve but there is no other way around for our future. Its a movable target but compromise is the only solution in the long term.

  2. The irony here is that the Costco wasn’t built on a wetland, that’s just what the CCNB said. They did have to move an artificial wetland (runoff container) to build the parking lot, but there was no let loss of wetland of any type. The Conservation Council doesn’t believe that facts should get in the way of their agenda.

  3. OK, lets get down to ‘facts’. For the above, the Costco WAS on wetlands, even the government admitted that-AFTER they stated there were no wetlands there. So if you live in glass houses…


    Next,the call was for a ‘moratorium’, NOT for completely abandoning gas extraction forever. We KNOW the government was not prepared, so asking them to have regulations FIRST is hardly asking the world. So who REALLY was opposed to compromise? Actually, even thats not true because MANY sides made compromise.

    Next, go to their forestry links and you can see all kinds of economic development proposals. Again, I like David’s blog, but THIS is why people think you are ‘on the take’. It’s making claims like that environmental groups SHOULD have ‘your view’. The CCNB initially had little problem with gas exploration, it wasn’t until members made them get active that they joined the hunt for a moratorium. They were actually pretty low key, it was natives who were making the real noise.

    The CCNB is an environmental organization, why in the name of heaven would they adopt YOUR economic development ideology? Do they write in their newsletters that never once at this blog has an environmental viewpoint been shown? Of course not. What they wanted was a stop to gas exploration, and that’s what they got, so why would they say anything other than what they think?

    Sustainable development does NOT mean ‘how can we hurt the environment as little as possible and make lots of money’.

    Finally, I have some pretty strong suspicions that there is a lot more than meets the eye here. Its VERY odd to see a gas company pull out ‘because of security’. These are people who are very familiar with guys blowing up pipelines, and this industry has toppled entire national governments. So the idea that ‘one of our guys may get hurt’ seems a bit of a stretch.

    There was virtually NO protest a year ago when Graham was in power. Then a main partner in the gas exploration pulls out because so little gas was found. The company made grandiose claims about how much gas they THOUGHT was down there, but a research scientist I know also claims that his discovery is the ‘magic bullet’ to cure cancer. You can NEVER take a company at its word. And virtually NO other companies have come in or expressed any kind of interest in taking the place of the company that bailed.

    So I have my suspicions about the whole mess. I DO agree that nobody should take the view that a small militant group somehow represents the majority of ‘folk’. At the same time, this group, and the CCNB, had perfectly legitimate grounds for their protest. Maybe NOW we will see the government actually put in the legislation they keep TALKING about.

    What is VERY sad about the whole thing is that the youth of our country are coming to the same conclusion as those in tyrannical regimes. That overthrow is virtually the only way to make any dent. That violence seems to be the ONLY strategy that has any effect. That protest is the ONLY way to affect public policy. Those are some VERY disturbing precedents.

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