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Opposition Leader Victor Boudreau said the provincial government should impose a moratorium on shale gas exploration until stronger rules are in place. (CBC) (CBC)

The Opposition Liberal are again calling for a moratorium on shale gas exploration until stronger rules are in place to govern the contentious industry.

Opposition Leader Victor Boudreau said natural gas companies will begin seismic testing in the next few weeks, so it is important the provincial government impose a moratorium.

"As a party, we still firmly believe that a moratorium is needed on shale gas development until the Alward government introduces stronger regulations that satisfy New Brunswickers, as well as appropriate penalties for companies who fail to comply with these regulations," Boudreau said in a statement.

"We are also concerned about how the rules will be enforced and who will hold these companies to account. Those resources are not in place. There are still too many unanswered questions to allow this to move forward in our province at this time."

Premier David Alward has promised to introduction an Environmental Protection Plan this spring.

Alward and Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup have consistently said the shale gas industry could provide huge economic benefits for the province, which is facing a debt of more than $10 billion and high unemployment.

But the premier has promised that those economic benefits would not come at the expense of the environment.

Alward has said he wants to impose the continent’s toughest shale gas regulations on companies working in the province.

Poll results released

The Liberals released results from a Corporate Research Associates poll on Monday.

The CRA poll asked during its quarterly omnibus survey whether shale gas development should be delayed until there are sufficient rules to protect the environment. The poll said 82 per cent of respondents completely or mostly agreed with a delay.

The poll also said 79 per cent of respondents completely or mostly agreed that they are concerned about the environmental impact of hydro-fracturing.

CRA surveyed 400 people between Feb. 16 and 29. The results are accurate to within plus or minus 4.9 percentage points in 95 out of 100 samples.

Political problem

The issue of hydro-fracking has caused several headaches for the Alward government in the last year.

Tony Huntjens, a former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister, said recently the Alward government has not listened to the public on the issue of hydro-fracking.

In December, the Conservation Council filed a petition with the legislature that contained nearly 16,000 signatures. The petition called on the provincial government to abandon its plans for shale gas exploration.

In the hydro-fracking process, companies extract petroleum using a pressurized mix of water and other substances injected into shale rock formations or coal beds.

That high-pressure mix creates or widens fissures in the rock, so gas or oil can escape from pores and fractures.

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