The New Brunswick College of Family Physicians is calling for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in the province until more research is done on the controversial process used to extract shale gas.

Doctors are worried the potential risks outweigh the benefits, president Dr. Anick Pelletier stated in a recent letter to members of the legislature on the issue.

"By this letter, we are urging you to protect our valuable resources and the public’s health by putting a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing development in New Brunswick until further research can prove that the benefits clearly outweigh the risk of this practice," Pelletier wrote.

The group, which represents about 700 family doctors in the province, is concerned about the potential contamination of public water supplies, as well as possible air pollution or toxic spills, she said.

"For all of the reasons above, we believe hydraulic fracturing is not the right choice for New Brunswick and we urge you to use the power of your legislation to suspend the development of this industry in our province until further research is done."

Pelletier told CBC News the question of entering into the debate on fracking was brought up at the last general meeting of family doctors.

"The concern was mostly about the health of our patients in the population but also the environmental issues as well," Pelletier said.

When asked why enter the debate now, Pelletier responded, "We're concerned because we know there has been a great deal of development right now in New Brunswick. There's a great deal of pressure as well for the government to go on with new energy sources." 

"We are thinking this process is going really fast and there are still risks with this development. Unfortunately the benefits are not that big right now. We urge the government to put a moratorium on and wait until further studies show mostly that there are no health and environmental issues."

Party concerns

Liberal Opposition Leader Victor Boudreau raised the college’s letter during question period on Wednesday, saying it reinforces his party's repeated calls for a moratorium.

"The premier will not agree with the Opposition on this, but will he agree with the doctors of this province and put a moratorium in place immediately?" he asked.

Environment Minister Bruce Fitch said some of the concerns raised by the doctors are the same concerns his government has.

But those concerns will be alleviated when the government brings in stronger regulations this spring to govern shale gas development and protect the environment, he assured.

"We are working on this to make sure that safety is of the utmost importance in New Brunswick — the safety of the drinking water, the safety of the air, the safety of the soil that grows our food and vegetables and feeds our livestock, and, most importantly, the safety of the people who live in the province," Fitch said.

In the hydro-fracking process, companies inject a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground, creating cracks in shale rock formations so they can extract natural gas from areas that would otherwise go untapped.

Opponents of the process say it could have a negative effect on local water supplies.

Premier David Alward has promised to introduce an environmental protection plan this spring. He wants to impose the continent’s toughest shale gas regulations on companies working in the province, he has said.

College members voted on a resolution against hydraulic fracturing, also known as hydro-fracking, following their recent annual general meeting.