nb-shale-gas-hampton-protes

Concern about hydro-fracking has sparked several protests across New Brunswick in the past year. (Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon/CBC)

A senior advisor with the shale gas industry says the New Brunswickers she talks to are overwhelmingly in favour of the industry.

Angie Leonard, an official with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, was responding to a recently released opinion paper by four professors at the University of New Brunswick.

The professors raised concerns about hydraulic fracturing, including the large amount of water required for the process used to extract shale gas and how the contaminated waste water that's produced will be treated.

Leonard, who was part of the Alward government's shale gas working group until January when she went to work for the association, which is one of the industry's largest lobby groups, said she welcomes the opinion paper.

But New Brunswick's shale gas industry already has 30 wells that are producing natural gas and already knows how to dispose of the toxic water, she said.

'We do have something in place and until we see what further development there could be in the province, that will be a suitable way to dispose of any wastewater.'—Angie Leonard, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

"Current procedure is that any waste water is put into trucks and shipped to Debert, Nova Scotia, to an accredited waste water facility where it's treated," Leonard told CBC News.

"So we do have something in place and until we see what further development there could be in the province, that will be a suitable way to dispose of any wastewater."

If the industry takes off, the provincial government might want to consider setting up a water treatment plant, said Leonard.

It's also possible to re-use waste water for other fracking projects, she said.

Leonard is the sister of former energy minister Craig Leonard, the current minister of government services.

Controversial process

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.

The UNB researchers contend alternatives to hydro-fracking, using liquefied carbon dioxide or petroleum gas, should be studied.

Hydro-fracking should not go ahead unless there's an environmentally-responsible plan to dispose of the waste water, they said in their paper called Potential Impact of Shale Gas Exploitation on Water Resources.

In addition, they recommend independent inspectors be employed to monitor wells for safety and risks.

Leonard said the industry would have no problem with that.

"Industry are very open and transparent about their procedures so [we] welcome people to be out in the field when this is being done and to see the practices that are being used," she said.

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.