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Bradley Walters, a Mount Allison University professor, says the New Brunswick government should prohibit further hydro-fracking projects until more research is conducted. ((Courtesy of Bradley Walters))

New Brunswick should issue an immediate moratorium on the relatively new mining practice of "hydro-fracking" until more research into potential risks is completed, according to an environmental policy expert.

Bradley Walters, a geography and environmental studies professor at Mount Allison University, writes in an election analysis for CBC News that the next New Brunswick government should temporarily prohibit any new projects. The provincial election takes place Sept. 27.

Hydro-fracking is a process where companies pump a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground, creating cracks in shale rock formations. That allows companies to extract natural gas from areas that would otherwise go untapped.

"A full-scale moratorium on further hydro-fracking would be justified," Walters said.

"But if not a full moratorium, then at a minimum it would be wise to ban hydro-fracking from lands that serve as significant sources of drinking water for New Brunswick communities."

Texas-based Apache and Halifax-based Corridor Resources are in an exploratory stage of such a project near Sussex. Environmental approvals would be needed before a full-scale project went forward.

Corridor Resources announced in May that formerly abandoned wells 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.

More studies needed

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is studying hydro-fracking to see what health and environmental risks come with the mining technique.

Walters said this is the first in-depth evaluation and the New Brunswick government, along with many other governments and regulators, should be watching the results very carefully.

Until more research is completed, the Mount Allison University professor said strong regulations should be imposed immediately.

Walters said drill sites should be prohibited from being near residential areas, groundwater sites and farms.

The professor also said the New Brunswick government should release all testing information to the public so citizens can stay informed about the results.

There may be a time when hydro-fracking is found to be a safe mining procedure, but Walters said stiffer regulations are needed now.

"We may eventually learn that hydro-fracking poses few and acceptable risks to our health and the environment in the vast majority of cases," he said. "But encouraging widespread deployment of this technology before gaining a better understanding of the nature of these risks strikes me as an irresponsible approach."