The Opposition Liberals are criticizing the Alward government for considering using money from the Environmental Trust Fund to study the impact of developing the shale gas industry.
Environment critic Chris Collis says using the funds to pay for the government's new Energy Institute to study the issue is "a far cry" from what the fund is meant for.
The money is supposed to be used for community environmental projects across the province, Collins stated in a news release.
"These projects are meant to improve the province’s environment, as well as to educate New Brunswickers on ways to do so," said Collins, the MLA for Moncton East.
Earlier this week, Energy Minister Craig Leonard said the fund, which comes from bottle deposits that are not redeemed by New Brunswickers, is one possible source of funding for shale gas studies.
'While the Energy Institute will have a much broader mandate, there is a perception that its work related to shale gas will be used to further the government’s development agenda.'—Liberal MLA Chris Collins
"Certainly if there are areas that are strictly environmental in focus, that's definitely some potential we could look at there," he had said.
But Collins contends the idea contrasts statements previously made by other members of government, including Tourism, Heritage and Culture Minister Trevor Holder, who had argued in the legislature that the trust fund was a "sacred trust."
"The public has a right to question whether the Energy Institute is an appropriate use for the Environmental Trust Fund," said Collins.
"This government has been pushing shale gas development, and while the Energy Institute will have a much broader mandate, there is a perception that its work related to shale gas will be used to further the government’s development agenda," he said.
The government website states: "The fund provides assistance for action-oriented projects with tangible, measurable results, aimed at protecting, preserving and enhancing the province’s natural environment."
Scientist Louis LaPierre had recommended the government set up a new Energy Institute to study shale gas science and monitor how the industry develops in the province.
LaPierre, who led a series of public meetings to solicit feedback on 116 proposed regulatory changes to the oil and gas industry, has also recommended the government use trust fund money to pay for the institute.
The government is now hiring LaPierre, a professor emeritus in biology at the University of Moncton, to run the institute.