FREDERICTON (CNB) – The framework for a long-term action plan to manage the exploration, development and utilization of domestic natural gas in New Brunswick was unveiled today by Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup.

"Today, we are in the early stages of what could be the development of a significant natural gas industry in our province," said Northrup. "If this occurs, our government will make sure it is done in an environmentally responsible manner with maximum economic and social benefits for New Brunswickers. That is why we are developing this made-in-New-Brunswick plan."

The framework was developed under the direction of the Natural Gas Steering Committee, which includes the ministers and deputy ministers of Environment, Energy and Natural Resources. The steering committee has been established by the provincial government to ensure potential expansion of the natural gas sector is developed in a careful and responsible manner.

The action plan for managing the exploration, development and utilization of natural gas will be built on a framework of seven interlocking pieces:

●    an integrated project management approach;
●    a citizen engagement and awareness plan;
●    an environmental protection plan;
●    an economic benefits plan;
●    a resource development plan;
●    a community development approach; and
●    a regulatory framework.

"Work on these components will take place concurrently and in a co-ordinated manner by a multi-departmental working group that will ensure all of government has input into this process," said Northup. "We expect most of this work will be done over the next six to nine months, with the objective of ensuring a safe and economically sound approach is in place should development move forward in New Brunswick."

The minister said New Brunswick's existing regulatory framework, including a recently introduced phased Environmental Impact Assessment process, can ensure the current level of natural gas activity takes place in an environmentally responsible manner.

“Our government will continue to work diligently so New Brunswick has even stronger regulations that permit the responsible expansion of the natural gas sector while providing better safeguards for residents and our groundwater supply,” Northrup said. “As I have said many times, protecting our drinking water is Priority Number 1.”

He said that, since New Brunswick is very early in the exploration stage, the provincial government will take the time to get this right.

"We are undertaking a comprehensive due-diligence exercise to ensure exploration and development move ahead safely and responsibly,'' he said.

Some members of the Natural Gas Steering Committee have recently taken fact-finding trips to Arkansas, British Columbia and Alberta to learn first-hand about best practices and experiences in the development of the natural gas industry in those jurisdictions.

"We are consulting with New Brunswickers on how they see this industry developing, and we will be doing much more of this engagement and research," said Northrup. "All of this information will be used to ensure that we have a state-of-the-art regulatory framework and strong development plan to effectively and efficiently manage a full-scale natural gas industry should it become a reality.''

At present, nine companies hold a total of 71 agreements to explore for oil and natural gas on more than 1.4 million hectares (3.4 million acres) of land. Exploration companies have invested more than $374 million in the exploration and development of oil and natural gas in New Brunswick since 2000, and they plan to spend at least an additional $200 million during the next two years.