The Alward government will likely push off any "significant action" on shale gas exploration until after the 2014 election, according to a polling expert.

The New Brunswick government has been hit by more criticism this week over its handling of the shale gas file after a Kent County resident released an image of a company conducting seismic testing in a watershed.

The Department of Environment released a permit showing SWN Resources Canada has the right to test in wetlands in eight counties.


Images showing seismic testing in a Kent County wetland have caused a new political problem for the Alward government, according to the president of Corporate Research Associates. (Courtesy of Tina Beers)

A recent Corporate Research Associates poll shows that nearly half of the population believes shale gas exploration is important to the future economic prospects for New Brunswick.

But Don Mills, the polling firm’s president, said the fact the voice of the opposition seems to be the loudest is a problem for Premier David Alward’s government.

"There's a lot of people opposed at the moment and there's no question that this is the kind of thing that could hurt a government trying to seek re-election," he said.

Mills said the provincial government has backed itself into a corner on the shale gas issue.

"They're not likely to take any significant action on this file until after the election, which is only a year away," he said.

CBC News has put in several requests for interviews with various provincial departments, including the Alward’s office and the Department of Environment. The provincial government has yet to respond to those requests.

'They're not likely to take any significant action on this file until after the election which is only a year away.' — Don Mills, CRA president

But Premier David Alward said Wednesday that environmentalists have nothing to fear about seismic testing in wetlands. Alward added the work being done now is seismic exploration, not drilling.

In February, the provincial government released new rules and regulations for shale gas development, which included protection for watercourses and wetlands.

Provincial cabinet ministers have said New Brunswick has some of the strictest rules in North America.

'Caught with their pants down'

But one expert said the latest development about seismic testing around wetlands is a problem from the provincial government.

Brad Walters, a professor of geography and environmental studies at Mount Allison University, said the photos of seismic testing in a wetland is a significant problem for thte Alward government.

"They've been caught with their pants down, this is a huge embarrassment to them because it shows quite clearly that there's a huge gulf between what they themselves have been saying and what is actually happening on the ground in terms of government regulations," Walters said.

SWN's permit does list 26 conditions. Details on exactly what kind of work the company intends to do around wetlands is not known.

SWN did not return calls for an interview.

Sackville Coun. Margaret Tusz-King said seismic testing in the area three years ago showed that despite rules there was little enforcement.

"That's when we learned how shabby the regulations were in regulating the industry. And to our knowledge the regulations have not appreciably improved in the last three years," she said.

Marilyn Lerch, a Sackville resident, said she’s concerned about wetlands, such as her town.

"It has given carte blanche to SWN to go into eight counties and test on our wetlands. Is that an assurance we can trust? No way," she said.