New Brunswick

Moncton business group backs shale gas exploration

The Greater Moncton Chamber of Commerce is backing the exploration of shale gas in the province.

The Greater Moncton Chamber of Commerce is backing the exploration of shale gas in New Brunswick as a way to mitigate the province’s financial problems.

The business group said it surveyed its members and met with government officials, experts in the oil gas industry and academics to discuss the controversial mining process.

The chamber of commerce said it is worth pursuing the exploration for shale gas given the current financial situation of the provincial government and the financial potential of shale gas.

The New Brunswick government is forecasting a $471-million deficit this year. Finance Minister Blaine Higgs is set to release his next budget on March 27.

The chamber said it does have concerns about the impact of shale gas exploration on the environment and there are conditions for its support.

Those conditions include strict government regulations that will protect the public, greater transparency and responsible use of royalties.

Premier David Alward announced last year that his government would release an environmental protection plan that would cover shale gas exploration as well as other industrial activity. The plan is expected to be released this spring.

The chamber also said communities and individuals who may be negatively affected should have access to remedies, such as a trust fund with mandatory contributions by oil and gas companies.

Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup has already announced this type of fund will exist in the future.

The issue of shale gas exploration has been a contentious one for the Alward government in the last year.

Opponents of the shale gas industry are concerned about water contamination and the industrialization of rural areas. They have also specifically criticized the process of 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.

The Conservation Council of New Brunswick collected nearly 16,000 signatures on a petition tabled in the legislature last December that called on the provincial government to abandon its plans for shale gas exploration.

However, the Alward government has said the revenues from shale gas exploration could help pay for important government programs.