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Bradley Walters, a Mount Allison University professor, said he believes a moratorium is needed on the shale gas industry. ((Mount Allison University))

Two New Brunswick academics are calling for a moratorium on shale gas development until further study can be done on the industry’s long-term environmental impacts.

Bradley Walters, a Mount Allison University professor, and Rod Hill, an economist at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, are calling for the government to put the brakes on the industry until more research can be done.

Walters said in an op-ed written for CBC News the New Brunswick government has not had enough time to properly analyze the industry.

He said the mounting evidence of problems in the United States shows that the provincial government should not rush forward into embracing the industry.

Walters said the industry does not have a track record that should inspire the public’s confidence.

"Both here in Canada and abroad, it has not demonstrated a willingness to protect public interest at the expense of its bottom line," he wrote.

"The experience of Penobsquis should make one skeptical of government assurances that the public interest is being given adequate priority in planning for shale gas development," he said, referring to many of the town's residents losing their water.

"With 20 per cent of the province under exploration leases for shale gas, dozens of towns and small communities could eventually face Penobsquis-like scenarios. This is a deeply troubling prospect."

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John Herron, the president of the Atlantica Institute, said in an interview this week that the Penobsquis example does hurt the government’s credibility. Herron said, from a public policy perspective, the provincial government did not have the residents’ backs.

Many Penobsquis residents lost their water almost a decade ago and have blamed that on the nearby PotashCorp mine.

About 25 Penobsquis residents have appealed to the province's mining commissioner for help in resolving their water dispute.

The company supplied water to the affected homes but paid no financial compensation to those residents.

There are nine companies that have 71 different leases to search New Brunswick for natural gas.

Citizens in many New Brunswick communities have held protests opposing the shale gas industry.

Economic benefits remain unclear

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Rod Hill, a University of New Brunswick professor in Saint John, said the economic benefits of shale gas development are still unclear. ((Courtesy of Rod Hill))

A UNB economist is also urging caution before the provincial government moves ahead with shale gas exploration.

Hill said there is still not enough evidence to show that the shale gas industry could reap significant financial rewards.

Premier David Alward has said he would like to see the industry explore the possible opportunities in New Brunswick. He has also said that economic benefits from the industry could help fund important social programs.

Hill, however, said the government must observe what he calls the "precautionary principle."

"It suggests that if an activity, such as fracking, poses a risk of significant and long-term environmental damage, the burden of proof rests with those who want to undertake the activity to show that it does not pose a threat," Hill writes.

"All too often in the past, polluters have been allowed to pursue short term profit while leaving behind a legacy of long-term damage whose costs they did not bear."

The New Brunswick government has repeatedly dismissed calls for a moratorium on shale gas development.

Alward and Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup have both said that any significant shale gas development is still years away. The government has argued it is important to pursue testing and exploration to see if the deposits are actually in the province.

The Alward government has promised to bring in a new Environmental Protection Plan this spring that will cover hydro-fracking along with other activities.

Northrup brought in tougher regulations on the hydro-fracking industry earlier in 2011.