Energy and Mines Minister Craig Leonard is promising to review two new reports on the shale gas industry before the provincial government acts on any of their recommendations.
Earlier this week, Louis LaPierre, a professor emeritus in biology from the University of Moncton, released his report following a public tour talking to citizens about the provincial government’s proposed reforms.
Dr. Eilish Cleary, the province's chief medical officer of health, also released her report on the possible health impacts of the shale gas industry.
Leonard shied away from making any immediate judgments on the reports, but there were signs the energy and mines minister preferred LaPierre’s report.
However, Leonard said he's glad to see both documents recommend more assessments on the contentious industry.
Leonard said he liked LaPierre's recommendation that the province allow a limited, phased-in development of the industry so it can study how regulations are working and what the impacts are.
"The key focus we need to move forward with is a science-based approach, to get the facts of what we've got, and New Brunswick-based facts, not extrapolations from other jurisdictions where geology and social impacts might be different,” he said.
“What we need is to look at it from a New Brunswick perspective to determine how, if we move forward with the industry, what size and scope it will be and how we can best manage and regulate it."
The provincial government hired LaPierre to hold nine public meetings to seek input on the provincial government’s proposed 116 regulatory changes.
The proposed reforms were released in May by Environment Minister Bruce Fitch and Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup.
When Leonard moved over to the energy and mines portfolio in Premier David Alward’s recent cabinet shuffle, he became the lead cabinet minister on the shale gas file.
Cleary started her own review of the shale gas industry 15 months ago.
Environmentalists say LaPierre's recommendation of a phased-in approach amounts to a rejection of Cleary's work.
They say New Brunswick should consider the information Cleary gathered by looking at studies in jurisdictions where hydraulic fracturing, which is also known as hydro-fracking, is already happening.
Stephanie Merrill, an official with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, said a phased-in approach to development throws out the existing science Cleary used for her more cautious report.
"Dr. Cleary clearly appreciates building on the science that has been generated in other jurisdictions that have gone through more of the development,” she said.
The province’s top public health officer’s report has been a source of controversy for the Alward government.
Initially, the province’s environment minister said the entire report would not be made public but within a few days, the government decided it would release Cleary’s report and recommendations.
Cleary’s report was released several hours after LaPierre’s report was unveiled at a news conference.
Opponents to the shale gas industry say the hydro-fracking process can cause water and air pollution.
Hydro-fracking is a process where exploration companies inject a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground, creating cracks in shale rock formations. That process allows companies to extract natural gas from areas that would otherwise go untapped.