New Brunswick

Energy Institute's future uncertain under Gallant Liberals

The future of the New Brunswick Energy Institute is unclear with the Liberal government promising a moratorium on shale gas.

Organization set up to study natural resources, and government has promised a shale gas moratorium

The future of the New Brunswick Energy Institute is uncertain, with the energy minister saying it, like everything else, is "on the table for review."

The independent organization was set up by the previous Progressive Conservative government to oversee scientific research into shale gas and other natural resources.

Energy Minister Donald Arseneault says the New Brunswick Energy Institute has done some "great work," but would not commit Monday to its long-term future. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)
But the Liberal government is promising a shale gas moratorium, and before taking power, had questioned the institute's objectivity.

"We definitely feel the previous government politicized many of the files, and this was one of them that I thought they did the same way. So we do have concerns," Energy Minister Donald Arseneault told reporters outside the Exploration, Mining and Petroleum New Brunswick Conference at the Fredericton Convention Centre on Monday.

"But at the same time, there's some great work that's been done, especially on the research side, so again, no decision has been made, but we'll analyze as we move forward," he said.

"I'm sure we'll take the time to make a decision in the near future."

The institute is currently about halfway through baseline water testing for future comparison, if a shale gas industry is developed, said Karen Kidd, a member of the advisory board.

She summarized the institute's first year of operation for delegates at the energy conference.

Shale gas has been focus

The institute has focused on shale gas research during its first year of operation, but is now broadening its work to look at other resources, said Kidd.

David Besner, the chair of the institute, says he hopes the organization will be allowed to continue its scientific research, but says its future is in the government's hands.

"The government is elected by the people of New Brunswick, and the institute was put in place to serve the people of New Brunswick as a whole, including the government, of course, just doing objective science. So they were elected and they'll determine what they want to do," he said.

Even if there is a shale gas moratorium, Besner contends much of the institute's research would be valuable for future use.

Besner, a professional chemical engineer and former assistant deputy minister in the provincial government, previously served as a member of the institute's scientific advisory council.

The Canadian Rivers Institute is currently studying surface water conditions in areas of New Brunswick with the highest potential for shale gas development.

Most of the field study is slated to be done in 2015, with the results being published in 2016.

The study is expected to cost approximately $350,000.

Shale gas opponents have raised concerns about hydraulic fracturing, or hydro-fracking, the process commonly used to extract natural gas.

It involves injecting water, chemicals and sand into the earth at high pressure to fracture shale rock to release the natural gas within it. Some people worry the process could harm groundwater supplies.

The energy conference, which began on Sunday, continues Tuesday.