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Hydraulic fracturing, or hydro-fracking, involves injecting a pressurized mix of water, chemicals and sand into shale rock formations or coal beds to release trapped natural gas. (Associated Press)

New Brunswick's Energy Institute plans to study the potential impact of shale gas development on groundwater, starting next month.

It's setting aside more than $500,000 for the two-year project, which will be the first large-scale examination of how developing the industry in the province could affect the water quality of private wells.

"It's clear that people have concerns about their groundwater supply as it relates to resource development, and we're here to provide scientific data that will be useful for New Brunswickers and provide a better understanding about water quality and conditions," interim chair Dr. David Besner said in a statement.

The four regions where baseline groundwater data is expected to be gathered include: Sussex-Petitcodiac, St. Antoine-Shediac, Harcourt-Richibucto and Boiestown-Upper Blackville.

Shale gas opponents have raised concerns about hydraulic fracturing, or hydro-fracking, the process used to extract natural gas.

It involves injecting water, chemicals and sand into the earth at high pressure to fracture shale rock to release the natural gas within it. Some people worry the process could harm groundwater supplies.

The research project will create two research positions, as well as summer employment for up to eight field assistants and will include First Nations involvement, according to the statement.

Preliminary results will be posted on the energy institute's website. A final technical report will be completed in April 2016.