FREDERICTON - The company at the centre of a fracking controversy in New Brunswick said Wednesday it hopes to drill four test wells next year that will help determine the location of shale gas deposits in Queens and Kent counties.
If the project is approved, SWN Resources Canada said the vertical holes, known as stratigraphic test wells, would extend several thousand metres below the surface in Pangburn, Bronson, Galloway and Lower Saint-Charles.
"We remain confident and secure that we can do this work safely with responsible environmental management practices as we do throughout our work areas in the United States," said exploration manager Chad Peters.
Environment Minister Danny Soucy said the company has registered two wells for environmental assessments and his department is expecting two more. He said SWN Resources will be required to respond to questions from a technical committee that includes representatives from the provincial and federal governments.
"It's a good process, and it's a process that has been done for a number of years now and it's been proven that it worked well," Soucy told reporters at the legislature.
"As well, the company will have to do its work by doing consultation with the regional area and also the aboriginal community."
SWN Resources, a wholly owned subsidiary of U.S.-based Southwestern Energy Company, wrapped up seismic testing in New Brunwick last December.
Its exploration work in the province has been dogged by protests against shale gas development, including one near Rexton last October that turned violent and led to the arrests of about 40 people. Six police vehicles were burned when officers enforced a court-ordered injunction to halt the blockade of a compound used by SWN Resources to store equipment.
Peters said there are no plans at this time to proceed with hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, at the test well sites.
"That's not part of what we're doing and when we do get to that point, there's going to be another regulatory process that we're going to have to go through and we'll engage in a very good discussion about that," he said.
Fracking involves forcing water and chemicals into a well, fracturing layers of shale rock to release trapped pockets of natural gas. Opponents have raised alarms about groundwater pollution and other environmental risks.
The Liberal Opposition wants a moratorium on shale gas exploration until reports on the industry from Environment Canada and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are complete.
But Premier David Alward has said his Progressive Conservative government will push ahead with shale gas development in the province, arguing it would be "irresponsible" not to do so.
Soucy said he hopes any concern from New Brunswickers can be expressed without resorting to violence.
"We all can use our voice to say we're for or against something in the province of New Brunswick," he said. "But we ask people to do it in a respectful, lawful manner."
(News 91.9, The Canadian Press)