An alliance of groups opposed to shale gas development in New Brunswick has asked a court to impose a moratorium on unconventional oil and gas exploration and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the province until government officials can prove they are safe.

The New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance (NBASGA), a coalition of 22 nonprofit community groups, filed a statement of claim with the Court of Queen’s Bench in Saint John on Monday. According to court documents, the alliance alleges that shale gas development violates Canadian law guaranteeing the right to life and security of the person, which includes the right to clean air and drinking water.

In its filing, NBASGA named Hugh Flemming, the province’s minister of health and its attorney general, as the sole defendant.

“The scientific research that has been done to date on shale gas, and the experience of communities elsewhere with the industry, is alarming,” NBASGA Director Roy Ries said in a statement Tuesday. “These show that shale gas development using current technologies needlessly jeopardizes the health of families and communities across New Brunswick. [We will] place the best available, peer-reviewed scientific studies documenting that damage before the courts.”

According to the filing, NBASGA asked the court to impose “an interim, interlocutory and/or permanent injunction in the form of a moratorium against unconventional oil and gas exploration, development and fracking until the [government] can establish beyond a reasonable doubt and with scientific certainty that unconventional oil and gas development cannot and will not contribute to climate change nor to the contamination of the water, air and land use…”

The alliance also asked the court to order the provincial government to pay for court costs, and to “divert the social, political and economic resources at its disposal for unconventional oil and gas development into the development of an energy supply system that is based upon renewable energy sources that do not contribute to climate change.”

Last fall, anti-shale protesters blocked a stretch of Highway 11 near Rexton, NB, for several weeks, preventing employees of SWN Resources Canada, a subsidiary of Southwestern Energy Co. (SWN), from accessing a facility where the company parks seismic trucks and equipment. Violence erupted after authorities moved in to enforce a court order to clear the highway and allow SWN access to the facility. At least 40 people were arrested and five police vehicles destroyed (see Shale Daily, Oct. 18, 2013).

The province has been largely quiet since then. According to reports, in May a group of anti-shale protesters marched for three days from the Elsipogtog First Nation to SWN’s offices in Moncton, NB, to deliver letters stating their opposition to shale gas development.

SWN has licenses from the provincial government to perform seismic testing in New Brunswick, home to the prospective Frederick Brook Shale. The emerging play lies beneath the Hiram Brook tight gas sands in both the Sussex and Elgin sub-basins (see Shale Daily, Dec. 7, 2010).