FREDERICTON — The potential for New Brunswick’s new Tory government to partially lift a province-wide moratorium on fracking for natural gas should be known within days.
The issue has been a contentious one, with much political jousting as the new Tory minority tries to lift the moratorium in the Sussex area, where Corridor Resources has been in gas production for 20 years.
The Tories have introduced an amendment to their throne speech to urge the government to move ahead with gas development just in that region. The amendment says that communities in and around the town of Sussex have demonstrated their desire to proceed with shale gas development.
Sussex Mayor Marc Thone said his council, and most people he has spoken with, are supportive.
“In our community I’m sure that not 100 per cent of our citizens are going to be supportive of hydraulic fracturing, but we do believe that the majority of our region are supportive of it,” he said Wednesday.
“We’re not dependent on that moratorium being lifted but we see a brighter future for our region and all of New Brunswick if that moratorium is lifted,” he said.
Thorne said a number of companies have said they’d locate in Sussex or expand operations if there was a secure supply of natural gas.
The decision of the former Tory government of premier David Alward to embrace the shale gas industry was polarizing — a series of public protests culminated in a violent demonstration in the fall of 2013 in Rexton that saw 40 people arrested and six police vehicles burned.
Many people are concerned that fracking — which involves pumping water and chemicals deep underground at high pressure to fracture layers of shale and release pockets of gas — could have an impact on ground water supplies.
While some People’s Alliance legislators say they’re against fracking, they will stick to their pledge to support the government on confidence votes, including the throne speech vote on Friday.
People’s Alliance MLA Rick DeSaulniers has been very vocal about his opposition to fracking, but says he’ll have to put his opinion aside for the vote.
“The last thing New Brunswickers want for Christmas is an election. I’m not going to cause an election over that issue. I will support the government on the throne speech because we gave our word to the lieutenant-governor that we would support the government on confidence votes. My opinion on fracking right now is irrelevant,” he said.
People’s Alliance Leader Kris Austin said any attempt to allow fracking on a wider basis would be opposed.
Meanwhile, the Liberals have introduced a bill, that if passed, would require any changes to a moratorium to go to a full vote of the legislature.
Liberal Leader Brian Gallant, whose previous government imposed the moratorium in 2014, said any changes should go to a vote.
Corridor Resources currently has 32 producing wells in the Sussex area and operates a 50 kilometre pipeline, a gathering system comprising 15 kilometres of pipe, and a natural gas processing facility.
In a corporate presentation released this month, the company said if the moratorium is lifted, they would drill five vertical evaluation wells, complete three existing wells, identify “sweet spots,” and drill a second round of up to five horizontal wells.
However, when reached Wednesday, Corridor CEO Steve Moran was sticking to a prepared one-line comment.
“We are encouraged by the actions of the government, but we are going to respond in greater detail at a later date,” Moran said by phone from his office in Calgary.
Premier Blaine Higgs said with dwindling gas supplies off Sable Island, gas prices will increase dramatically if new supplies aren’t developed in the region.
“The majority of the gas supply is now coming from the midwest and the pipeline costs are dramatic in the sense of what it means to consumers here in New Brunswick,” Higgs said.
“Lets manage this through a manageable-sized development. Let’s look at what has been learned throughout Canada and the U.S. on the safe development of gas supplies,” he said.
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