PCs give shale gas development quiet go-ahead in Sussex area
Liberals denounce what they call secretive decision
Premier Blaine Higgs has confirmed that his Progressive Conservative government quietly passed regulatory changes last month that will allow shale gas development to resume in the Sussex area.
Higgs told reporters that his cabinet approved an order-in-council carving out an exception to a province-wide moratorium.
"We've done the modifications necessary on the current regulation," he said during a scrum on economic development issues. "My goal is to be able to tell Corridor [Resources] within a month's timeframe that we are open for business."
Corridor Resources started extracting gas in the Sussex area since 1999 but halted new fracking after the Liberal government of Brian Gallant imposed its moratorium after the 2014 election.
Higgs said he'd been planning to make the announcement publicly in Sussex sometime in the next month.
"We want to make that announcement so officially they can go out and look for investors," he said.
He also vowed that before any project goes ahead, his government will consult with Indigenous people in the hopes of avoiding the kind of confrontations between protestors and police that took place near Rexton in 2013.
"We want to do this right. We want to do this right through the whole First Nations engagement and through what potential may exist, and make sure everyone understands it's a very regional approach," Higgs said.
"We don't want this to turn into an issue like happened four or five years ago. We want it to be one element of that area that can move forward in a productive way, and not get stopped and started because of people not getting informed properly."
Higgs said, however, that he's not sure yet which First Nations he would need to consult. "Do I have someone that I need to speak to, right today, about it? No, I don't know who that is."
The federal government recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Elsipogtog First Nation to begin talks on Aboriginal title to about one-third of the province, including the area around Sussex.
The Opposition Liberals immediately condemned what they called a secretive decision by Higgs and his cabinet.
"He didn't consult with New Brunswickers," said Dieppe Liberal MLA Roger Melanson. "They made a decision behind closed doors, in cabinet. … The premier of this province thinks he's running a majority government, and he's not."
But Higgs did win majority support in the legislature for the move last December when three People's Alliance MLAs voted with the PCs on his throne speech motion. The motion had been amended to endorse excluding the Sussex area from the moratorium.
The Liberals responded by introducing a bill to write the province-wide moratorium into law, something they didn't do when they were in government. That would make it impossible to approve exemptions by cabinet order.
But so far the Liberals have not used their allotment of opposition days in the legislature to bring the bill forward for second reading.
Green Party Leader David Coon called on them to do that this week in light of Higgs's comments.