Shale gas exploration focus of public forum in Dieppe

Some of New Brunswick's top legal minds are looking at the controversial issue of shale gas exploration.

Canadian Bar Association held meeting with economists, political scientists shale gas representative

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves blasting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into a well bore to split the surrounding rock and release trapped hydrocarbons, usually natural gas, coal bed methane or crude oil. (CBC)

Some of New Brunswick's top legal minds are looking at the controversial issue of shale gas exploration.

The provincial section of the Canadian Bar Association held a public forum in Dieppe on Saturday.

Among the members of the panel were economists, political scientists and a representative of SWN Resources.

Shale gas has polarized opinions in New Brunswick.

The province spent almost $10 million in extra policing costs to deal with protests and road blocks north of Moncton.

Hundreds of protesters clashed with exploration workers throughout most of the summer and into the fall.

Premier David Alward has been pushing forward with shale gas exploration, saying the province's economic future is tied to more resource development.

Opponents have also been working hard, trying to stop any further development. They say the risk of pollution and the risks to groundwater are too high.

Sherri Somerville, with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said New Brunswick has an estimated 70-trillion cubic feet of natural gas. That's 2 per cent of all the potential in North America.

There could be even more, that estimate is from just one company, Corridor Resources.

Somerville said it doesn't include any reserves found by SWN resources, a company that has been looking for the last few years but hasn't released what it has found.

Jim Emberger, with the Anti-Shale Gas Alliance, said doctors, nurses and many other groups want a moratorium in the province.

“Eighty municipalities and governing bodies have called for a moratorium. All these unions including the largest unions in Canada have called for a moratorium,” he told the group in Dieppe Saturday.

Economist Pierre Marcel Desjardins from l'Université de Moncton said the industry could be worth over tens of millions of dollars to the provincial economy.

Desjardins said there's only been one study done on the economic impact of shale gas.

But it predicts 50 wells could create more than 1,000 jobs.