The Davis government has launched another one of its initiatives that is making a fuss. No matter how hard I try, I can’t find any upside for the government. Why are they doing it?
The previous fuss-maker with no possible upsidethat the Tories launched was the re-distribution of electoral constituencies and elimination of eight seats in the house of assembly. That one came with an election looming and the government way down in the polls. Puzzling timing. Some were suspicious that the redistribution might favour the government. It’s not really clear exactly how. It appears likely that rural Newfoundland will lose the most seats. I say Newfoundland, not Newfoundland and Labrador, because the big land was spared any cuts in its four seats for the very good reason that it has a sparse population spread over a lot of geography. Just like the rural parts of the island.
An independent group made up entirely of males was formed to study and recommend changes to the electoral map. A preliminary proposal has been released for discussion. This hurried and unfair redistribution plan got ready agreement from the Liberals, whose poll scores made it most likely they would win the next election. Now both the Tories and Liberals have annoyed the voters. Another puzzler.
Then along came another fuss-maker with no possible upside.The government chose another independent all-male group. What, no women were available?
The all-guy panel was charged with the task of creating a policy on fracking for the province. Once again, the timing was a puzzle. A temporary ban was already in place prohibiting hydraulic fracturing, the use of high pressure liquids forced into narrow crevices in shale rock to break them apart and release oil or gas. This practice is opposed by many who are afraid that the chemicals added to the pressurized water will pollute the subsurface drinking water. There is a vocal and well-organized group on the island’s west coast opposed to fracking.
Set aside the public fear of negative environmental consequences for the moment. Why the government chose this particular time to study a highly controversial means of extracting oil and gas from the pulverized sub strata is a puzzler. Oil prices in the last year have fallen by half. They remain at a multi-year low. Natural gas prices dropped by two thirds in 2008 and remain there today.
The history of fracking is not long. When oil prices were well over $100 a barrel, this expensive, destructive, and possibly poisonous way of extracting oil and gas, at least made economic sense. So many got into fracking that it changed the energy landscape. In the United States oil and gas companies were mad for it.
America, for years has had an insatiable thirst for both, without enough of either in their own country to satisfy their requirements. After grumbling for years at the reluctant need to buy offshore, often at top dollar from seller-nations that caused Uncle Sam to hold his nose, now here was another option, both cheaper and local.
It was an overnight game changer. And it had a fundamental effect on Newfoundland and Labrador. One of the pillars supporting the massive economic structure of Muskrat Falls was the plan to ship electric power to New England. Since the fracking frenzy overtook America, the establishment of oil and gas-fired electric power plants have erased Nalcor’s anticipated income from sales to the Boston states.
Since the collapse of oil prices last year some of the fad for fracking has cooled. It is no longer very profitable and in some cases has become a losing proposition. Fracking operations have closed in significant numbers. Add that to the ecological dangers, and the motivation for fracking start-ups is difficult to find.
An Environics poll in 2012, even before the oil price crash halved the income from fracking, showed an overwhelming majority of Canadians were opposed to it:
• 67 per cent of people in British Columbia
• 66 per cent of people in the Atlantic provinces
• 65 per cent of people in Ontario
• 64 per cent of people in Manitoba/Saskatchewan
• 57 per cent of people in Alberta
• 55 per cent of people in Quebec
If the practice of fracking is so unpopular nationwide, why is the Davis government creating a fuss among committed anti-frackers in this province when there is no apparent upside to discussing it. It’s a puzzler isn’t it?
Does Paul Davis know something the rest of Canada doesn’t? Or is he just a fuss-maker with no possible upside?