New Brunswickers split over shale gas, poll finds

New Brunswick residents are split on the importance of shale gas development to the province's economic future and many are concerned about its safety, according to a new survey by Corporate Research Associates Inc.

48% say industry important to provincial economy, 44% say not important, CRA finds

New Brunswickers are divided on the importance of shale gas to the economy, a new poll shows. 2:19

People in New Brunswick are split on the importance of shale gas development to the province's economic future, according to a new survey by Corporate Research Associates.

Many New Brunswickers are concerned about the safety of shale gas exploration, the CRA results released on Wednesday show.

The Alward government fully supports shale gas development, but has faced mounting opposition to the industry over the past two years, including several protests in recent weeks in Kent County, where SWN Resources Canada is preparing for  seismic testing.

"Given the high concerns over the safety of shale gas and the mixed opinions regarding the importance of shale gas to the economic future of New Brunswick, it is clear that there will be significant and continuing challenges to government and industry in the development of shale gas resources in the province of New Brunswick," said Don Mills, the chief executive officer of CRA, said in a statement.

Nearly half of the 400 New Brunswick adults polled, 48 per cent, believe shale gas is critically important or important but not critical to the province's economic future, while 44 per cent say it is not very important or not at all important to the economy.

Northern residents are less likely than others to believe it's important, with 40 per cent assigning it importance compared to 53 per cent in southern New Brunswick and 49 per cent of Moncton-area residents.

Shale gas exploration given low safety rating

When asked to rate the safety of shale gas exploration on a scale of one to 10, with one being not safe at all and 10 being extremely safe, the average rating in the phone survey was 3.9, the results show.

The reasons are not given, but many opponents have raised concerns about the impact the hydraulic-fracturing process, commonly known as hydro-fracking, would have on water supplies.

The process involves companies injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground, creating cracks in shale rock formations, enabling them to extract natural gas from areas that would otherwise go untapped.

"For them to sort of blithely say, 'Well, our regulations are going to fix everything and don't worry about it. We'll take care of you,' no," said Denise Melanson, who was part of an anti-shale gas protest along Highway 126 near Harcourt on Wednesday.

"They're not going to take care of us. We know that. And we are absolutely determined that we're not going to let this happen."

People living in northern New Brunswick and the Moncton area are more likely to consider the exploration of shale gas unsafe, rating it at 3.3 and 3.5 respectively compared with those in the southern region, who gave it a 4.6.

"I don't know why they're picking so hard on the shale gas industry, as opposed to what the forestry industry has done in New Brunswick over the years. The pollution from pulp and paper mills etcetera," shale gas supporter Ed Armstrong told CBC News.

Regulations to manage risk

"Any industrial activity there has risk," he said.

Regulations are in place to manage the risks, said Armstrong. And it's an excellent opportunity for New Brunswick to get out of a financial rut," he said.

"It's proven everywhere it's done that it's an economic boon to the area — Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, the areas where it's happening, especially in North Dakota. They're always looking for people for work."

The survey was conducted between May 14 and May 30, with overall results accurate to within plus or minus 4.9 percentage points, 95 times out of 100.

A recent study on shale gas found the industry could generate $13 million in development opportunity per well in New Brunswick.

Each well would also create about 21 full-time jobs, the report by Deloitte said.

Former Liberal premier Frank McKenna has said developing the shale gas industry could generate more than $7 billion in royalties and tax revenues, which would end the province's debt and deficit problems.

The Opposition Liberals have called for a moratorium on shale gas.