Flirting with fracking
Canada and the U.S. are teaming up to tackle nuclear waste. Big banks have put up more money for Trans Mountain. And one of Canada’s smallest provinces is trying to cash in on kelp.
In another small Canadian province, tensions have been running high over the prospect of more fossil fuel development — and a premier’s comments about moving ahead, with or without First Nations’ consent. My colleague Cloe Logan has been keeping an eye on the fracking fight unfolding in New Brunswick. This week, I’m taking a look at what’s happened so far and how it relates to oil, gas, mining and forestry projects across Canada.
Before we dive in, though, I want to let you know this is the final weekend to donate to Canada’s National Observer’s fundraising campaign. We’re more than halfway to our goal of raising $100,000 by May 24, but we need help to get across the finish line. If you have the means, would you kindly consider donating to support vital journalism on Canada's changing climate?
As always, you can let me know what you think of this newsletter at [email protected].
Have a great long weekend ahead and stay safe!
— Dana Filek-Gibson
Looking for more CNO reads? You can find them at the bottom of this email.
‘The people will not allow it’
It’s been more than a year since Russian troops invaded Ukraine, kicking off a gas shortage in Europe and subsequent calls to fill the void with Canadian liquefied natural gas (LNG). The conversation hasn’t gone much further than that, thanks to a lack of infrastructure and a weak business case for East Coast LNG, but in New Brunswick, Blaine Higgs is still trying.
The premier, a former Irving Oil executive, has seized upon Europe’s energy crisis to make a case for more fracking, a practice that involves injecting water, chemicals and sand underground at extremely high pressures to extract natural gas. Cashing in on this practice in New Brunswick could help make Canadian LNG a viable option for Europe, Higgs argues. That’s debatable (because, again, the East Coast doesn’t have the facilities to send LNG overseas), but Higgs faces another, more immediate, snag: his province has had a moratorium on fracking for nearly a decade.
That ban came about in large part because of fierce resistance from First Nations in the province, who opposed the threats new fracking would pose to their lands, waters and health. And after Higgs’ latest push for fossil fuel development, representatives of those nations say they’re ready to resist again.
Earlier this month, on a trip to Europe, the premier said he would work with First Nations to expand New Brunswick’s gas industry. But if they didn’t get on board, he reportedly told business publication allNewBrunswick: “There comes a time when you just gotta find a way to move on.”
Those remarks did not go over well. A couple months ago, the province sent letters to First Nations touting the potential profits new fracking could bring — a year after the premier announced he was pulling out of gas revenue tax-sharing agreements that are an important source of income for those nations.
Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Inc., a group representing the nine Mi’gmaq communities in New Brunswick, has since accused the premier of “trying to force First Nations leaders to sign agreements supporting development without consultation.”
Meanwhile, Chief Tim Paul of Wotstak, Woodstock First Nation, put it bluntly: “Our message to any country or company placing their energy hopes or plans in Blaine Higgs is simple: keep looking.”
Higgs has since stressed the province will not shirk its legal duty to consult with First Nations on fracking development, but the premier also warned nations the window of opportunity for consultation is closing.
For First Nations in the province, though, consultation is not a box-ticking exercise. New Brunswick needs their consent to expand fracking development on their lands. That may not be how the premier sees it, but increasingly, Canada would seem to agree, at least on paper. Right now, the federal government is developing an action plan to carry out its United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (or UNDRIP) Act that includes developing guidelines for free, prior and informed consent from Indigenous Peoples when it comes to developing natural resource projects in their territories.
To be fair, the law has been met with ambivalence from some Indigenous communities and frustration from First Nations leaders with whom Ottawa has consulted. But what those consent guidelines look like will have big implications for the future. Not reaching consensus on natural resource projects sets the stage for resistance from nations fighting to maintain their right to self-determination — take, for instance, ongoing disputes around the Coastal GasLink pipeline, the Trans Mountain expansion and mining projects in B.C. and Ontario.
For now, at least, Higgs’ LNG dreams seem unlikely to pan out. Still, Green Party Leader David Coon doesn’t want to take any chances. Earlier this week, the MLA tabled a bill to ban fossil fuel development in the province once and for all, hoping to follow in Quebec’s footsteps. New Brunswick’s legislature is set to vote on the proposed legislation in June, but with Higgs at the helm of a majority government, it’s unlikely to pass. Either way, he’s probably not changing his tune on fracking any time soon.
“Regulations can be changed, and legislation can be changed. So if you think that by putting legislation, it will stop the premier from actually standing up and talking about fracking, you are wrong,” Liberal MLA Keith Chiasson said Thursday in the legislature.
“He will continue to get up and spit out his old ideas of, you know, back in the day when fracking was accepted, ‘Oh, those were the good old days.’ Just let him. Let him rant about that because we know it’s not going to happen. We will not allow it. The people will not allow it.”
More CNO reads
Alberta deserves a climate election. The wildfires blazing across the province right now are a useful reminder of what’s really at stake in the upcoming vote, writes columnist Max Fawcett.
And Indigenous communities deserve equal support. First Nations fighting off wildfires aren’t receiving the same resources as settler communities, Indigenous Climate Action says. Matteo Cimellaro reports on how colonization can drive climate change.
“We are buying too much.” Canada’s electronic waste problem is booming, Abdul Matin Sarfraz reports, and advocates want the federal government to put Canadians’ right to repair their devices into law.
Canada’s eastern Rockies risk becoming a carbon bomb. Natasha Bulowski breaks down a global analysis showing fossil fuel projects in Canadian protected areas could unleash up to 2.7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
“Anything can happen to me if I go back.” A change to Canadian immigration law could send Iranian film producer and women’s rights activist Mahshid Ahangarani Farahani back to a country where there is a warrant out for her arrest, Abdul Matin Sarfraz reports.