People living in rural communities east of Sussex, N.B., are coming to terms with the economic and environmental possibilities of being the centre of an energy boom.

Apache Corp., a Texas company, will begin drilling for natural gas next month near Elgin and it's a ratcheting up of exploration following some promising finds last fall.

Corridor Resources announced this week that a formerly abandoned well could have more natural gas than is available in all of western Canada's proven reserves.

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

Work is scarce in Elgin and local Fire Chief Gary Steeves said he wants that natural gas to be there.

"And I really think that this thing is going to take off and start booming. And I'm hoping with my fingers crossed," Steeves said.

The economic opportunity comes in the form of shale gas after Corridor Resources found a thick deposit of shale rock east of Sussex.

Norm Miller, the president of Corridor Resources, said the quality of the shale gas is driving the interest in more wells.

"It's because of the great thickness of the shale and the amount of what we call free gas contained in the shale, that makes it such a large concentration of gas in a relatively small area," Miller said.

Fracking concerns

The drilling to the gas involves fracking, a process that has the company fracture the rock to release the gas.

David Keighley, a sedimentary rock specialist at the University of New Brunswick's geology department, said fracking involves pumping high-pressure water and drilling compounds into deep horizontal wells.

"The worries are always in does the fracture fluids — the liquids, the gasses — will it get into the water supply," Keighley said.

Those possible environmental concerns are leading one New Brunswick watchdog to call for tougher rules governing the industry.

David Coon, the policy director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, said the provincial government should tighten the environmental rules that would apply to extracting the gas out of the area.

'We're very much in danger of negatively affecting our water, negatively affecting our land use unless we have  the appropriate rules in place before this gets going in a big way," Coon said.

"And it very well could get going in a big way when natural gas prices go back up."

The province's environmental impact assessment process is not triggered until the company goes into what's considered commercial production, Coon said.

That worries Coon, who said a lot of drilling and fracturing can legally take place before a well reaches commercial production.