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Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup is planning an informal public meeting on shale gas exploration on Jan. 29 in Sussex. ((CBC))

The New Brunswick government is holding a public meeting over the controversial issue of shale gas exploration in southern New Brunswick.

The contentious issue of shale gas development, through a process known in the industry as hydraulic fracturing, has drawn protests and calls for tougher rules.

Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup and Environment Minister Margaret-Ann Blaney announced the informal public session on Tuesday.

"This government made a clear commitment to ensure property owners were better informed about the process surrounding shale gas development, an industry that offers great economic revenue potential for New Brunswick," Northrup said in a statement.

"We want to see this potential realized but in the proper manner so that people and communities are aware and part of the process.''

The public meeting will be held on Jan. 29 in Sussex.

Individuals and property owners concerned about exploration, environmental safeguards, landowner rights, economic benefits and employment can ask questions to government and industry officials during the meeting.

During the hydraulic fracturing process, 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.

Corporate interest

Texas-based Apache and Halifax-based Corridor Resources are in an exploratory stage of such a project near Sussex.

If sufficient gas is found, Apache and Corridor Resources could team up on drilling as many as 480 new wells in the area.

The two companies have already agreed to participate in a new phased environmental process that is being overseen by the New Brunswick government.

The new review process requires the companies get approvals at the beginning of a project, before drill sites are selected and at almost every step leading to commercial production. The Tory government has committed to adopting the phased practice.

It isn't just Apache and Corridor Resources who are interested in exploring New Brunswick for shale gas deposits.

A controversy erupted in Norton after the village council allowed Windsor Energy to perform seismic testing in the area. The company wanted to test to see if there is natural gas trapped in underground shale.

As well, Southwestern Energy Company is planning to hold a public meeting on Thursday at the University of New Brunswick to discuss the future of the rules governing natural gas exploration.

For the past year, the energy company and the Environmental Defense Fund have been collaborating on new mining regulations for some U.S. jurisdictions.