Fracturing debate: Natural gas and aquaculture

The Economist magazine this week has an interesting story about an entrepreneur who has developed a technology that uses methane and bacteria to create low cost food for farmed salmon.  All of the testing they have done shows the fish like the food and it provides all the nutritional value needed.   The article suggests that the low cost of natural gas brought on by hydraulic fracturing has brought the cost of this technology to a level where it is cheaper than other food alternatives.

So I went online to find the article – I couldn’t find it on so I googled the terms ‘fracking’ and ‘aquaculture’ and I stepped right into Armageddon.  Don’t get me wrong, few if any of the stories were about the intersection of fracking and aquaculture.  It’s just that these two toxic topics are featured interchangeably in so many blogs and alternative media sources that I plowed for 20 minutes and couldn’t find anything related to the topic I was looking for.   Interestingly a lot of the content was from bloggers in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick where these two issues are top of mind.

There is no doubt that someone coming cold to the debate about aquaculture or fracking if they decided to research on google they would be shocked and scared about both of these topics.   It’s not a question of degrees – online debate circa 2015 is more polarized than every and if you are unlucky enough to google ‘fracking’ and ‘aquaculture’ you will see one far end of the pole.

It actually doesn’t have to be this way.  There are a lot of common sense debates going on – they just rarely make it to the top of Google searches.  I wouldn’t call Stephen Downes, the NB-based blogger and learning technology expert, a right wing fanatic and even he laid down on these pages the five conditions that would need to be in place before he would support hydraulic fracturing.  You may agree or disagree with his list but that is far different that saying “fracking is going to destroy our water, turn our forests into an industrial wasteland and make New Brunswick uninhabitable.   One argument is based on debating facts (albeit there is legitimate debate about ‘facts’) the other is based on emotion – principally fear but if they induce anger, frustration, etc. that is a bonus.

New Brunswick has some of the thickest if not the thickest shale formation in North America. We don’t have a lot of unique comparative advantages but this could turn out to be one.  If that shale is hydrocarbon rich, if the gas can be extracted without serious negative impact on the environment and local communities maybe we should give it a try.

Will developing NB shale exacerbate global warming? This is way out of my sphere of expertise but from a straight economic perspective it is unlikely because stopping developing in one area doesn’t reduce demand.  If we don’t extract our gas, other jurisdictions will just increase production to meet the demand that our gas would have been used to fill.  Right now natural gas is being used to displace coal and to a lesser extent oil.  That trend will continue whether or not we develop our gas or not.

The counter argument is “we all need to do our part” and it’s not our concern if other areas don’t care about the environment.

I disagree with that sentiment.  If Canada took more deliberate steps to reduce its demand for carbon-based fuels that would be far more beneficial to the environment than efforts to curb supply.  A 30% reduction in the demand for fossil fuel-based energy would be a steep reduction in our emissions.  Stopping shale gas in New Brunswick would likely have no effect on global emissions and could raise them as the need to ship gas from far markets to the Maritimes is in itself an energy-intensive effort.

Let’s have a common sense debate.


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