The New Brunswick government is imposing new regulations on natural gas exploration that will force mining companies to conduct water tests prior to work starts and set up a security bond to protect homeowners from any potential accidents.

Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup announced the new regulations on Thursday after months of protests by citizens against the contentious mining technique known as hydro-fracking.

"The possible expansion of the natural gas industry is a great opportunity for our province in terms of potential jobs and other economic benefits,'' Northrup said in a statement.

"If this industry is to take root and grow, we are going to ensure it is done in a careful and responsible manner that benefits all New Brunswickers.''

The new regulations will force mining companies exploring for natural gas to undertake:

  • baseline testing on all water wells within a minimum distance of 200 metres of seismic testing and 500 metres of oil or gas drilling before operations can begin. 
  • offer full disclosure of all fluids and chemicals used, or proposed, in the hydro-fracking process 
  • set up a security bond to protect property owners from potential accidents

The New Brunswick government is also promising to set up a formula so property owners and local communities can share in the financial benefits of the natural gas industry.

Energy Minister Craig Leonard said the potential financial benefits from the natural gas industry represent "the most significant economic opportunity for our province in a generation."

"While no one can yet say how viable our natural gas reserves may be, the government is committed to laying the groundwork now so we will be ready if it is proven that we have commercially viable reserves," Leonard said in a statement.

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.