Natural resources and economic development – towards a better framework

I recently collaborated on a paper for the Atlantica Centre for Energy.  A highly critical commentary in the TJ today suggested that I authored the report.  This might be another debate about semantics but I helped write this report but it is squarely an ACfE report.    This matters because I think it was an important step forward for an industry funded group to make the kind of arguments made in this report.  Yes, the report puts forward the premise that we can have natural resources development and communities that are great places to live – in fact the report makes the case the two are linked -with examples from across North America.

But the report is really meant to start a broader conversation about the right framework for this development.  It’s not just about economics – damn the torpedoes – but you can’t either just eschew any time of development because there are potential risks.   As I have said before, there were 10,000 workplace accidents in 2010 reported to the workers’ compensation organization in New Brunswick.  If we came to the decision we can’t support any development that has risk, we wouldn’t leave our houses in the morning.

The other critical point made by this report – is that if something happens – if some form of natural resource development causes harm – the government has to have the back of the people.  It has to make it right.  I won’t go into the details of the report but you should read this part – it is not the normal kind of framing of this you would see from an industry funded group.

There are industry proponents making the case for shale gas, mining and wind energy (this is the most controversial these days – it was a big issue in Ontario’s recent election and there are many stories about the wind energy around Amherst and the anger among local residents).    That’s their job.  There are environmental groups that see their mandate as fundamentally about stopping shale gas or mining or more tree cutting or Costcos built on wetlands (the wind energy issue is a little more polarizing).

I am not sure folks at the hard end of these positions will ever come to some full fledged agreement.  I am not sure that is what we should expect in a democracy.

But for everyone else – the 90 percent of people in the middle that want both – natural resources development, jobs and taxes for public services – and protection of their environment  – those are the folks that want to be engaged in the broader conversation.

I hope this paper is one small part in this conversation.

2 thoughts on “Natural resources and economic development – towards a better framework

  1. “The other critical point made by this report – is that if something happens – if some form of natural resource development causes harm – the government has to have the back of the people. It has to make it right. ”

    That is a critical point. I don’t see any movement on this issue from the current govt, but unless they do move in that direction there will continue to be a great deal of resistance to shale gas or mining. People have to see that the govt is on their side. Yet GNB can’t even seem to come to grips with more extensive water testing before development takes place – they seem to have backed out of an arrangement with groups in the Nashwaak valley, for example. Did they do that for good reason? We don’t know as they aren’t talking.

    GNB should announce that an arms-length commission or something similar will be established to award compensation in cases where adverse events occur (eg loss of water or water quality). That group should be given the power to make awards for damages on the probability of harm, rather than a legal finding of fault, and the funds should come out of royalty payments or a combination of royalties and funds provided by industry out of profits. I don’t see much sign that the govt has learned much from the Penobsquis episode.

    The report from the Atlantica Centre seems very fair-minded to me. I haven’t read the ‘critical’ commentary in the TJ so can’t comment on that.

  2. This is so great. We need a balanced approach, one that will bring revenues in to pay for our senior’s health care and benefits, and provide jobs, while ensuring the safety of the people. If we rejected everything with risk we probably wouldn’t have any oil/gas and many other things we enjoy today. Plus we need a bridge fuel to get us to the alternative energies. And funnily Sackville turned down wind turbines too because “they kill birds and the vibrations make people sick”, so being extreme gets us nowhere.

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