FREDERICTON (CNB) – Stronger requirements for natural gas development to better protect and inform New Brunswickers were announced today by the provincial government's Natural Gas Steering Committee.

"The possible expansion of the natural gas industry is a great opportunity for our province in terms of potential jobs and other economic benefits,'' said Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup, who chairs the steering committee. "If this industry is to take root and grow, we are going to ensure it is done in a careful and responsible manner that benefits all New Brunswickers.''

Under these new requirements, oil and natural gas companies who want to engage in exploration, development and production will have to:

●    conduct baseline testing on all potable water wells within a minimum distance of 200 metres of seismic testing and 500 metres of oil or gas drilling before operations can begin. These will be minimum requirements and may be increased depending upon the situation;
●    provide full disclosure of all proposed, and actual, contents of all fluids and chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing (fracing) process; and
●    establish a security bond to protect property owners from industrial accidents, including the loss of/or contamination of drinking water, that places the burden of proof on industry.

The provincial government has also committed to develop a formula so landowners and nearby communities can share in the financial benefits of the natural gas industry.

"Given that this may be the most significant economic opportunity for our province in a generation, we are moving decisively to put in place the necessary requirements to better protect New Brunswickers while allowing exploration to continue,'' said Energy Minister Craig Leonard. "While no one can yet say how viable our natural gas reserves may be, the government is committed to laying the groundwork now so we will be ready if it is proven that we have commercially viable reserves.''

Environment Minister Margaret-Ann Blaney said the new requirements will be part of the natural gas action plan being developed under the direction of the committee.

"While our committee is still completing its due-diligence and research, we have already determined there are certain decisions that are absolutely necessary and can be made at this time,'' she said. "Our goal is to have a model regulatory framework, with the necessary monitoring and enforcement mechanisms to protect the environment and residents of New Brunswick."

Blaney said the government will continue to develop its regulatory framework and said she hopes to gain additional insights at the provincial Natural Gas Forum being hosted in Fredericton on Thursday, June 23. About 40 participants, representing a broad cross-section of New Brunswickers, have been invited to take part in a dialogue on what natural gas development could mean for the province.

"We are still working on how we will need to enhance our current policies and regulations if the natural gas industry takes off," said Northrup. "The provincial forum will help us make these sort of decisions.''

Blaney said the forum is part of the provincial government's wider commitment to on-going citizen engagement. She said the government has made a commitment to support the responsible expansion of the natural gas sector while ensuring the safety and security of New Brunswickers and groundwater supplies.

"As we have said all along, if we cannot do this in a safe and responsible manner, while protecting our drinking water, we won't do it at all,'' she said.

The Natural Gas Steering Committee includes the ministers and deputy ministers of the departments of Environment, Energy and Natural Resources and has a mandate to ensure any expansion of the natural gas sector is done in a careful and responsible manner. Committee members have visited several jurisdictions where natural gas production from shale deposits is well under way in order to learn from their experiences.

“Our visits made it clear that the positive impacts of this industry on our province could be overwhelming" said Leonard.

"Estimates from each of the jurisdictions indicate that we could be looking at thousands of  new jobs in New Brunswick and hundreds of millions of dollars in royalty revenue that the government can invest in providing education and health care,'' he said. "We owe it to New Brunswickers to fully explore this opportunity while protecting the things they hold dear."