in-nb-bruce-northrup-fracki

Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup said he wants to learn more about the lawsuits filed against Southwestern Energy in the United States. ((CBC))

Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup is planning to talk to people in U.S. cities where Southwestern Energy is being sued over its hydro-fracking mining operations.

Southwestern Energy, which is planning to search for natural gas in New Brunswick, has been hit with a second class-action lawsuit over its hydro-fracking procedure.

Several New Brunswick cabinet ministers have travelled to the United States and have met with state governments to discuss the regulatory regime that governs the controversial mining process.

Northrup said he's also hoping to get more information from people who are now suing Southwestern Energy to better understand the problems they encountered.

"We never got a chance to talk to any of them but we plan in the future by talking either by phone or even going back again with myself and a couple of other people," he said.

Northrup said the provincial government wants to put in place an effective regulatory regime governing the mining process.

"With the [environmental impact assessment] system everything has to be put on the table before they even start going into the ground as far as casing and the fracking process," Northrup said.

"So we want to get as strong a regulatory system and that means working with the conservation people and working with industry and working with stakeholders to put a good system in place."

Avoiding similar problems

The natural resources minister said there's still time to make sure the problems in the United States surrounding the hydro-fracking process do not migrate north.

"We have enough time to beef up our regulations that we have in place now and probably put some regulations in place in the fall," Northrup said.

While the New Brunswick government is still studying possible regulatory changes to the mining industry, Quebec has ordered a moratorium on hydro-fracking.

The natural resources minister said there are no plans for a moratorium on hydro-fracking.

Hydro-fracking — also known as hydraulic fracturing — has caused many New Brunswick communities to discuss the strength of the province's mining rules.

Hydro-fracturing is a process where exploration companies inject a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground, creating cracks in shale rock formations. That process allows companies to extract natural gas from areas that would otherwise go untapped. Southwestern Energy is facing class-action lawsuits in both Pennsylvania and Arkansas. Some homeowners are alleging their water has been contaminated because of the nearby mines.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

The lawsuits also ask for the courts to force the gas companies to pay for independent health and water tests.

But New Brunswick's natural resources minister said the provincial government may force companies to pay for independent health and water tests.