Moncton, Saint John divided over shale gas debate

Saint John and Moncton residents are offering mixed views on the future of natural gas exploration and the controversial hydro-fracking procedure, according to a new poll.

Saint John and Moncton residents are offering mixed views on the future of natural gas exploration and the controversial hydro-fracking procedure, according to a new poll.

Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup met with hydro-fracking protesters in August. (CBC)
Corporate Research Associates released a new survey on Wednesday that examined opinions in New Brunswick’s two largest cities on the issue of natural gas exploration and hydro-fracking.

Don Mills, the president of CRA, said many citizens in the two cities are opposed with respect to gas exploration. However, people are less concerned about the idea of exploring for natural gas.

"While those groups opposing shale gas exploration have of late been very active and vocal, these results provide an indication that New Brunswickers,  at least those in two of the largest centres, are still very much divided on the issue," Mills said in a statement.

Do you support natural gas exploration?
 MonctonSaint John
Completely Support8%11%
Mostly support33%37%
Mostly oppose20%20%
Completely oppose16%13%
Don't know22%20%

In Saint John, 48 per cent of respondents either completely or mostly support natural gas exploration opposed to 33 per cent who completely or mostly oppose it.

Meanwhile, 41 per cent of Moncton respondents support natural gas exploration compared to 36 per cent who oppose it. In both cities, a "significant" segment of roughly 20 per cent are undecided.

When people are asked about their support for shale gas exploration and use of hydro-fracking, the numbers begin to shift.

"Overall opposition to shale gas exploration increases and support decreases when the issue of hydro-fracking is introduced but the percent who are unsure also increases, indicating the very complex nature of this issue," Mill said in a statement.

In Saint John, 45 per cent of respondents oppose shale gas exploration or hydro-fracking compared to 27 per cent who support it.

Do you support shale gas exploration, which can include hydro-fracking?
 MonctonSaint John
Don't know28%30%

While in Moncton, 41 per cent of respondents are opposed to the procedure compared to 29 per cent who support it. Roughly 30 per cent of people are undecided about shale gas exploration and hydro-fracking in those cities.

CRA did not put the same questions to residents in rural communities.

The polling firm sampled 300 Moncton residents and 301 Saint John residents from Aug. 25 to Sept. 3. The results for each community have a margin of error of 5.7 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The margin of error could mean a figure could swing up or down by 5.7 percentage points.

The poll, however, also found that there is a high degree of knowledge on the issue.

When the polling firm asked if people were aware of the debate over natural gas exploration, 77 per cent of respondents in Moncton and 79 per cent of respondents in Saint John said yes.

Hydro-fracking controversy

There are various ways to extract natural gas reserves.

The process of hydro-fracking has caused a storm of controversy for the New Brunswick government.

SWN Resources Canada announced in August that it was halting its seismic testing in New Brunswick for the remainder of 2011. (CBC)
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 to hydro-fracking fear the process could jeopardize their water supplies.

The Department of Natural Resources held public forums earlier this year on shale gas exploration. And Premier David Alward has said he wants to persuade New Brunswickers that the process is safe.

The provincial government has announced new rules on shale gas exploration and hydro-fracking.

Among the new reforms, mining companies must now disclose chemicals that are used in the hydro-fracking process and post a security bond to compensate communities if there is any damage.

Those reforms have not quelled the public anger in some areas.

There have been several protests and blockades around New Brunswick in recent months opposing shale gas exploration and hydro-fracking.

SWN Resources Canada decided to halt its seismic testing in the province after some of its equipment was vandalized.

Meanwhile, Windsor Energy cancelled its own public hearings over shale gas exploration. But the company said it was not because of concerns over protests but because of equipment delays.

The provincial government has also been criticized for its handling of the hydro-fracking file.

Environment Minister Margaret-Ann Blaney was forced to apologize to the Conservation Council in August. Blaney said she made a mistake when she accused the Conservation Council of stirring up emotions and tacitly encouraging people to break the law.