Higgs government looking to partially lift fracking moratorium

It didn't take long for New Brunswick’s incoming government to start juggling one of the most divisive issues in the Maritimes. 

There's a moratorium on natural gas fracking in New Brunswick, one imposed by the previous Gallant government, but there are signals the moratorium may soon be, at least partially, lifted.

Almost four years after the Gallant placed a moratorium on hydraulic fracking, the natural gas industry has come to a virtual standstill.

But industry observers say, companies are still interested in returning to the region.

“If the New Brunswick government, and for that matter the Nova Scotia government wishes to pursue that as an opportunity, there's certainly a market demand for the gas,” said Colleen Mitchell of the Atlantica Centre for Energy.

The Progressive Conservatives campaigned on lifting the moratorium, in certain regions, like the Sussex area.

“There's no secret that we want to lift the moratorium and have natural gas developed, especially Corridor Resources,” said Progressive Conservative MLA Bruce Northrup. “They've been there many, many years in my riding and we want to see them back in business.”

The issue of fracking is always going to be a minefield for any provincial government in the Maritimes. Though perhaps even more so if that government is in a minority position and dependent on the support of others.

Re-opening the door to fracking will require changes in legislation, says UNBSJ political scientist J.P. Lewis.

"We know (Blaine) Higgs is talking about making tough decisions on some contentious policy files like fracking, while they might be able to get things through the legislature, they're going to have to compete in an election relatively soon, maybe within a couple of years, and how is that going to play out on the campaign trail?”

The renewed debate over fracking comes at a time when the region's major source of natural gas is running out.

“The traditional source of natural gas for the Maritime provinces has been offshore Nova Scotia, and the field supplying natural gas will end at the end of this year, about eight weeks away,” Mitchell said. “So we have about eight weeks of domestic supply of natural gas in the Maritime provinces.”

While the new government is more supportive of fracking, Northrup would not predict when the moratorium will be lifted.