New Brunswick officials said Thursday that while the province was enacting tougher natural gas regulations in the emerging Frederick Brook Shale, it would not implement a ban on hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

The provincial government's Natural Gas Steering Committee, which includes the ministers and deputy ministers of the Environment, Energy and Natural Resources departments, unveiled three new regulations before Thursday's Natural Gas Forum, which was being held in Fredericton, NB.

"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 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."

The new regulations will require companies to perform baseline testing on all potable water wells within 200 meters (656 feet) of seismic testing and 500 meters (1,640 feet) of drilling sites before operations can begin. The province said these minimum requirements may be increased in certain situations.

Companies will also be required to disclose the chemical composition of all fracking fluids and establish security bonds for their operations.

"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.

New Brunswick Premier David Alward told reporters Wednesday that the province would not ban fracking, repeating Northrup's position from March (see Shale Daily, March 14). An official with the premier's office confirmed Alward's comments to NGI's Shale Daily on Thursday.

"[Alward] has been consistent that the government is not putting forward a moratorium on hydrofracking," the official said. "It's been pretty well documented. He's been talking about working responsibly with the industry to develop the sector in the province. A moratorium would not help the province do that in any way."

Environmental groups began pressing New Brunswick officials for a moratorium on fracking after neighboring Quebec said it would conduct a two-year environmental assessment on shale gas (see Shale Daily, March 10). Quebec is allowing fracking to continue on a limited basis.

Committee members said they hoped to gain additional insight from Thursday's forum, which reportedly had about 40 participants, including environmental groups.

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

Leonard said development of the shale gas industry in New Brunswick could generate thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in royalty revenue. "We owe it to New Brunswickers to fully explore this opportunity while protecting the things they hold dear," Leonard said.