Shale gas study costs may be covered by environmental fund

The New Brunswick government may use money from the Environmental Trust Fund to help cover the costs of studying the impact of developing the shale gas industry.

Energy Minister Craig Leonard said the fund, which comes from bottle deposits that are not redeemed by New Brunswickers, is one possible source of funding.

"Certainly if there are areas that are strictly environmental in focus, that's definitely some potential we could look at there," he said.

"But again, it's just part of the puzzle right now that we're looking at."

The Environmental Trust Fund is supposed to pay for community initiatives.

But it has been used for other projects in recent years. Under the Graham government, it even helped pay for the daily operations of the Environment Department.

This year, the fund is forecast to collect $10.9 million, but to spend only $4.5 million on trust fund projects.

"I think it's a nice convenience to have that little pot of money to dip into when you want to do something that's vaguely environmental," said Green Party Leader David Coon.

The government decided to set up a new Energy Institute to study shale gas science and monitor how the industry develops in the province, based on the recommendation of scientist Louis LaPierre.

LaPierre, who led a series of public meetings to solicit feedback on 116 proposed regulatory changes to the oil and gas industry, has also recommended the government use trust fund money to pay for the institute.

The government is now hiring LaPierre, a professor emeritus in biology at the University of Moncton, to run the institute.

In his report, LaPierre rejected the idea of imposing a moratorium on the shale gas industry, saying that would stop all research and "would not benefit New Brunswick or its people."

Opponents say hydraulic fracturing, the process used to extract shale gas, could have a negative impact on water supplies.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as hydro-fracking, involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground, creating cracks in shale rock formations, allowing companies to extract natural gas from areas that would otherwise go untapped.

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