A company planning to drill for oil and natural gas in New Brunswick is being sued in the United States.

Several families in Pennsylvania are accusing Southwestern Energy of contaminating their drinking water.

The lawsuit alleges chemicals from the company's hydrofracking activities spoiled their freshwater wells.

Hydrofracking is a process where companies pump a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground, creating cracks in shale rock formations. It allows for the extraction of natural gas from areas that would otherwise go untapped.

The Pennsylvania lawsuit was filed last September.

 

'The gas companies are drilling in more, or at least relatively more, populated areas.'

—Lawyer Peter Cambs

It alleges that in 2008, Southwestern Energy started hydrofracking near several homes in rural Susquehanna County.

The families maintain something went wrong and chemicals loaded with heavy metals and carcinogens entered their wells.

Their lawyer, Peter Cambs, said he can't comment about the case since it's before the courts.

He did say his firm is getting more and more inquiries as fracking becomes more popular.

"As fracking has become perhaps more cost effective and profitable for the gas companies, the gas companies are drilling in more, or at least relatively more, populated areas," said Cambs.

Cambs said his firm is representing other families in Pennsylvania in a similar case against another gas company.

The representative for Southwestern Energy in New Brunswick said he's aware of the situation.

Claims dismissed

Tom Alexander said his company doesn't use the heavy metals and carcinogens the plaintiffs claim are in their wells.

He said his company is working with the Pennsylvania Department of the Environment to confirm that.

The company held an open house in Salisbury Wednesday about its three-year project to explore more than one million hectares of land in New Brunswick.

Alexander said the company isn't deterred by a moratorium on drilling announced Tuesday by the province of Quebec. An environmental assessment board in that province has called for a full evaluation of potential risks involved in the hydrofracking process.