Canada's environment minister says he has the power to stop hydro-fracking in New Brunswick, but it's unclear if he will intervene.
The exploitation of natural resources is not actually regulated by Ottawa, said Peter Kent.
He has asked the Council of Canadian Academies to review hydro-fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing. It's a controversial practice that injects a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground, creating cracks in shale rock formations so that natural gas can be released from areas that would otherwise go untapped.
In New Brunswick, the natural gas industry has been exploring for shale gas and plans to use the process to extract the gas if the companies find enough.
The federal government could step in and restrict the practice if the review by the non-profit science agency finds certain environmental "triggers," such as the chemicals involved posing a threat to waterways with fish, said Kent.
'If we were to find that there was significant broad environmental risk, then we would have to consider ways of acting to limit or control it.' —Federal Envionment Minister Peter Kent
"If there is a need for a certain sort of action, we certainly under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act have that authority and wouldn't hesitate," he said.
But it's too early to speculate what the review, started in September, will conclude, Kent said.
"If we were to find that there was significant broad environmental risk, then we would have to consider ways of acting to limit or control it," he said.
However, the minister reiterated that the actual exploitation of natural resources is not regulated by the federal government.
"Again I stress, the responsibility for shale gas, as with conventional gas and oil exploration and development, is one that rests with the provinces and territories."
The real value of the federally-requested study will be to "inform the public," he said.
In June, the New Brunswick government announced new regulations for natural gas exploration that will force mining companies to conduct water tests prior to work starting and to set up a security bond to protect homeowners from any potential accidents.
The new regulations followed months of protests across the province by citizens opposed to hydro-fracking.
Quebec has ordered a moratorium on hydro-fracking.