What will fracking do to NB’s tourism?

by Deborah Carr

During the public sessions held in Hillsborough in June 2012, I stood at the microphone and asked the government panel if anyone had assessed the impact of a fossil fuel industry on tourism in our region. Our local business owners have worked long and hard through good and bad tourism years in an effort to create, promote and build a viable eco-centered tourism industry based on our beautiful, unspoiled landscape and our unique asset: The Bay of Fundy. They’ve invested deeply in their own futures and also in the shared vision for our region.

Had the government determined how industrialization, air pollution and the associated heavy-equipment traffic would impact their businesses, our infrastructure and the visitor experience? Silence met my question. They looked at each other and one member responded, “To my knowledge, we’ve not looked at that.”

Shortly after, I posed a question on the disposal of toxic and sometimes radioactive wastewater and was told the water was treated in Debert then dumped in the Bay of Fundy. “The Bay of Fundy??”

More silence.

Since then, a law has been enacted to ban the treatment of flowback water from fracking in municipal treatment facilities.

hopewellrocks1

The Hopewell Rocks attracts over 250,000 visitors each year and continues to grow. Visitor spending is in the vicinity of $3-4 million annually.

Within other jurisdictions, the fracking industry has imposed strains on accommodation availability for visitors as temporary oil and gas workers from outside the region are housed at local hotels/campgrounds; congestion/destruction of roadways through increased truck traffic; negative visual impacts on scenery; and competition for the labour supply. (Research here and here)

Tourism is critical to our culture, heritage, recreation and sense of place. Visitors to this province come to enjoy the unspoiled vistas that our natural environment provides and these same landscapes are part of who we are. While here, visitors support an array of businesses that contribute to tax revenue, and many of those same businesses enhance our rural lives throughout the year.

In 2012, the tourism industry employed over 30,000 people, and visitors spent $1.1 billion. Tourism accounts for more than mining, agriculture, forestry and fisheries combined.  The  completion of the Fundy Trail Parkway will increase these numbers.

This fact sheet from the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance shows the tourism areas currently under oil and gas leases and potential impacts on the industry.

Is it fair to negatively impact one industry in the pursuit of another?

While our government and the proponents of the oil and gas industry focus on the potential of this industry to solve all our economic woes, Sociology PhD candidate, Hassan Arif, compares that hoped-for gain against the economic cost to our environment and our tourism industry. Arif writes:

 “The massive industrial operations associated with fracking would fundamentally change the character of New Brunswick’s rural and natural landscapes. These landscapes are an attraction for tourism and (potentially) for new residents, as well as a being an important part of our province’s identity as a smaller province of pristine natural and rural landscapes….We need policy oriented to building a 21st-century creative economy with emphasis on investing in education, promoting high-tech and other entrepreneurial endeavours, and modernizing agriculture and forestry so they are sustainable enterprises in the 21st century.” .

He goes on to say:

The debate over hydraulic fracturing for shale gas (fracking) is often presented as one of conservation versus economic growth — in particular by proponents of the process, who claim that fracking is the only answer — the “magic bullet” — for job creation and economic growth in the province (even if opponents of the process have raised doubts about the job-creation potential).

Fracking is a new and unproven technology. There are serious risks to air and water quality from the chemicals pumped underground as part of the fracking process, and the storage of wastewater associated with the process. The risks of this process have been highlighted by the Cleary Report, by concerned citizens in this province, and by experts such as Anthony Ingraffea of Cornell University. In places where fracking is already occurring — such as in Pennsylvania — there have been issues with contaminated water supplies and well leaks.

In addition to these environmental and public health concerns, there is also an economic cost to fracking. The massive industrial operations associated with fracking would fundamentally change the character of New Brunswick’s rural and natural landscapes. These landscapes are an attraction for tourism and (potentially) for new residents, as well as a being an important part of our province’s identity as a smaller province of pristine natural and rural landscapes.

Read his complete article here.