New Brunswick premier-elect promises to ban fracking

Brian Gallant says he will keep his campaign promise to impose a moratorium on the controversial process

It appears New Brunswick’s new premier will be doing things differently than his predecessor when it comes to shale gas development in the province.

Fresh off a victory in the Sept. 22 provincial election, Gallant says he and his Liberal Party intend to follow through on their campaign promise to put a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. Commonly called “fracking”, this extraction process uses water, chemicals and sand pumped into a well at high pressure to fracture tight rock and release gas trapped in the rock.

This is a major reboot in energy policy for the province. Under Premier David Alward (who resigned on Tuesday as the Progressive Conservatives party leader), the mantra was frack, baby, frack. The party made shale gas development a pillar in its strategy to improve the province’s faltering economy.

Of course, without fracking it will be difficult to extract any natural gas from the province’s tight shale rock. And without shale gas development, New Brunswick’s oil and gas industry will remain in a holding pattern – it’s got the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, the underutilized Canaport liquefied natural gas import facility (also in Saint John), and maybe TransCanada Corp.’s Energy East Pipeline will pass through the province someday.

I’m curious to see what a fracking moratorium will mean for Halifax-based Corridor Resources in New Brunswick. The junior oil and gas company has been producing shale gas near the town of Sussex for over 10 years and was fracking wells this summer to appraise the resource potential of the Elgin basin.

Meanwhile, SWN Resources Canada holds the exploration rights to one million hectares in the province and plans to drill four test wells there in 2015. The company says it won’t be fracking those wells, but it is shale gas it is looking for. And if it finds enough of it and wants to develop it, fracking would likely be required.

Will these two companies stop investing in the province if Gallant follows through on his fracking moratorium promise? And what about other companies who were considering making investments in New Brunswick because of its shale gas potential?

Gallant sounds pretty committed to a moratorium right now. But things can change quickly in politics if certain campaign promises bump up against economic reality.

Stay tuned. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more on this in the coming weeks and months.

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