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Environment Minister Rick Miles will consider new regulations on the drilling process called hydrofracking. ((CBC))

Environment Minister Rick Miles is willing to look at setting new regulations on a contentious technique for natural gas drilling being proposed for the Penobsquis and Elgin areas.

Apache Corp., a Texas company, will soon begin drilling for natural gas in southern New Brunswick and will use the process called hydrofracking.

The process, where workers fracture rocks deep underground using high-pressure water to release the natural gas, has proved to be controversial in New York.

Apache and Corridor Resources are still in an exploratory stage and environmental approvals would be needed before a full-scale project went forward.

That approval may become more complex as the province's environment minister has opened the door to putting new rules on hydrofracking.

Miles said there is a way to proceed with the economic development while still being good environmental stewards.

"We're going to look at all aspects of the exploration and the drilling components. We've had meetings with the proponents that are looking to come to New Brunswick," Miles said.

"But we also got some good ideas from the Conservation Council. So we will be looking at some of the regulations that we have in place to make improvements where need be."

The Conservation Council brought in Kate Sinding, an American environmental lawyer, to meet with provincial officials and residents of Penobsquis and Elgin this week to explain the potential problems that hydrofracking could bring to the area.

Sinding, who was representing the Natural Resources Defence Council in New York, said there's an urgent need for government regulation of the natural gas drilling process.

Sinding said hydrofracking has caused damage and drinking water contamination in parts of the United States.

"Most of the contamination — drinking water contamination — that we've seen in the U.S. has happened during the drilling phase at some point or another," Sinding said.

"So really making sure that the proper regulations are in place — and the resources to enforce those regulations— would be a top priority."

Miles said some of the information brought forward by the Conservation Council was new to his department.

"We work well with the Conservation Council. They're always good proponents of environmental stewardship here in New Brunswick, said Miles, "and that's why we do have a good working relationship.

"But we also want to make sure that we promote economic development and do it in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way."

Water quality is already an issue in the small community of Penobsquis. About 60 local wells went dry mysteriously in 2004 and that touched off a lengthy dispute as residents tried to regain a proper water supply.

Corridor Resources announced in May that a formerly abandoned well could have more natural gas than is available in all of western Canada's proven reserves.

If sufficient gas is found Apache and Corridor Resources could team up on drilling as many as 480 new wells.