Dispatches from the road: Dallas

I am spending a few days in the Dallas-Forth Worth area on vacation with a side objective to check out the development of Barnett shale gas down here.   I wasn’t interested in plowing through all the literature on this.  My only goal was to drive around and see for myself – at least at a superficial level – how this type of development can impact a local community.

Dallas itself is an interesting place.  The US customs officer expressed surprise that we were going to Dallas on ‘vacation’ – of all the places we could visit.  I have been travelling to the U.S. for more than 25 years and have visited every single state in the Union except Hawaii.  Dallas is no New York, San Francisco or even San Diego but it has very nice features.  The food here is excellent and the cultural attributes are quite unique relative to other parts of the States.

As for shale gas, we spent time driving around a community in the metro area with a rapidly developing industry.  I had met with the City Planner a few months ago and knew all the back story but I wanted to see for myself.   Obviously I didn’t visit every nook and cranny but from what we could there isn’t much visual impact except the ‘construction’ phase when new wells have the look of a new house or building while it is being construction.  Once the well is in place and the land around it has grassed in, it just looks a bit like a small radio tower or a hydro line.  We did see pipeline and other above ground infrastructure in a couple of places too.

We watched the TV the first night we were here (tired from the trip) and saw an advertisiment by gas companies assuring folks that protecting water was their number one priority.  If you Google it, you will find there are shale gas protests down here and come communities are changing their by-laws to reflect concerns.

Ultimately I didn’t really learn much other than it is unlikely shale gas in New Brunswick will lead to the kind of visual carnage some people have been warning of (bleak, industrial landscape was my favourite).  Unless you define bleak industrial landscape as having a gas well every kilometre or so down the road as bleak.

As I have said before the environmental and geological debate is one for others.  But I continue to come back to my premise.  New Brunswick has a lot of natural gas under the ground – way down well below the water table – but it is there and it could be extractable.    It is our resource.  We are going to need new sources of natural gas to provide energy to industries and homes in New Brunswick soon – as Sable winds down.  We can either bring up shale gas from the U.S. or we can try and develop our own.

4 thoughts on “Dispatches from the road: Dallas

  1. “Once the well is in place and the land around it has grassed in..”

    Perhaps that is the problem right there – replacing industrial forest with industrial grass :).

  2. On the environmental front, there is this story on how the Obama administration axed a study which showed widespread damage to water systems from fracking wells: “Now a confidential report obtained by The Associated Press and interviews with company representatives show that the EPA had scientific evidence against the driller, Range Resources, but changed course after the company threatened not to cooperate with a national study into a common form of drilling called hydraulic fracturing”. That’s the associated press by the way, not some crazy loons on a picket line.

    On the business front there is this: “We are all losing our shirts today.” Mr. Tillerson said in a talk before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. “We’re making no money. It’s all in the red.” That’s the CEO of ExxonMobil, not some crazy protestors.

    As for NB, ALL the companies involved are from ‘away’ and there is no legislation that says anything about using gas in NB. It is currently pumped out of the Sussex field where it is added to the Maritimes Northeast pipeline which is headed for the US. Enbridge has a monopoly on gas distribution which is centred on the Maritimes Northeast pipeline, so there is no reason to believe that natural gas is anything other than a commodity to be exported.

    I think your rhetoric is getting away from you, we have very little evidence of the amount of gas underneath New Brunswick, and there is also a big difference between a ‘resource’ (how much is there) and a ‘reserve’ (how much economically viable).

    Even some insiders are saying that natural gas is nothing more than a ponzi scheme similar to the housing bubble, and given Alberta’s current fiscal situation, I don’t think gas – or ANY commodity is something a government should hang fiscal policy on.

    As for the aesthetics, thats least of the concern and I haven’t hear too many protestors saying “I don’t want the industry here because the wells aren’t pretty”. Ironically a few of the proponents of this have also been big opponents of wind towers for pretty much the same reason. For some reason wells are prettier than wind turbines.

  3. Let’s be honest here. Nobody is saying that extraction of unconventional natural gas resources isn’t accompanied by risk. But the reality is that all industrial processes have such a risk, natural resource related, or otherwise.

    The true question is whether or not New Brunswick is in a position to balance those risks, while still providing for much-needed economic windfalls to a province that continues to fall behind. I think it can, and should proceed, albeit in a cautious fashion.

    While it is true that Alberta finds themselves in a bit of fiscal predicament today, the majority of observers have to admit they have woefully managed their blessings. Remember that Alberta has the lowest income tax rates in the country, and no sales tax to speak of. Were this not the case, Alberta’s fiscal situation would be much different than the snapshot you see today. Their problem is that politics have gotten in the way of simple economics. Had they a tax system that is aligned with the rest of Canada, Alberta would still be far and away the most wealthy province in the country, yet with a more sustainable and less volatile revenue base.

    Moreover, irregardless of where the natural gas eventually flows, whether it my consumed within the region or exported to the northeastern U.S., the economic gains to NB will still be substantial. We should learn from the mistakes of other jurisdictions in this matter, not fear that they will reccur in NB if development proceeds.

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