New Brunswick

Gas exploration company defends hydro-fracking

Hydro-fracking will have an environmental impact on New Brunswick, but an exploration company official says the economic benefits outweigh any potential problems.

Hydro-fracking will have an environmental impact on New Brunswick, but an exploration company official said the economic benefits outweigh any potential problems.

Despite protests against Southwestern Energy's plans for natural gas development in southern New Brunswick, Tom Alexander, the company's general manager, said he feels he's generally been given a warm welcome in the province.

Alexander said he expects the longer the company stays in the province, people will realize the natural gas development will create jobs and generate investment.

"Those jobs will last generations, this is not a one shot deal," Alexander said.

"In terms of the royalty revenues, tax revenues and benefits of that nature to the province, we have roughly estimated that could well exceed $300 million a year."

Southwestern Energy is facing lawsuits in Pennsylvania and Arkansas over allegations by citizens that hydro-fracking contaminated their water.

Environmentalists and community groups in New Brunswick have also been vocal in their opposition to the petroleum practice, saying they are worried that it could threaten their water supply.

Listening to complaints

Alexander says he's been listening to those opposed to hydro-fracking who are worried about the potential of environmental damage.

Alexander said his company doesn't want to do anything harmful to the environment either.

"You won't have to have someone regulate us out of here. If we can't do it properly, we won't do it. Never will," he said.

Alexander said, however, that some environmental impact cannot be avoided with any type of economic development.

"We've said all along that the regulatory environment that's in place right now in New Brunswick is totally adequate for the level and type of activity that is going on now," he said.

"If we have a discovery then there will have to be some changes to beef it up because it will be a different type of activity than what new Brunswick has already experienced."

Several New Brunswick cabinet ministers and civil servants have been touring the United States looking at the regulatory frameworks different governments have put in place to govern the contentious practice of hydraulic fracturing, or hydro-fracking.

Hydro-fracking is a process where exploration companies inject a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground, creating cracks in shale rock formations. That process allows companies to extract natural gas from areas that would otherwise go untapped.

Southwestern isn't the only company that is considering development in New Brunswick.

Texas-based Apache and Halifax-based Corridor Resources are also exploring a project near Sussex.

Corridor Resources said in 2010 that once abandoned wells could have more natural gas than is available in all of Western Canada's proven reserves.

The company has said if sufficient gas is found they could team up on drilling as many as 480 new wells.