FREDERICTON -- New Brunswick's premier says he wants to forge ahead with plans to lift the province's fracking moratorium, and will speak this week with a company ramping up its plans for new wells.
Corridor Resources currently has 32 producing wells in the Sussex area and operates a 50 kilometre pipeline, a gathering system comprising 15 kilometres of pipe, and a natural gas processing facility.
The company wants to expand but the previous Liberal government imposed a 2014 moratorium that prohibits hydraulic fracturing -- a process that involves pumping water and chemicals at high pressure to fracture shale rock and release gas.
The new Tory government has proposed lifting the moratorium in specific areas, such as the Sussex region, if there is public support.
On Monday, Premier Blaine Higgs said he planned to speak with Corridor CEO Steve Moran later this week.
"I want to understand the potential. I also want to do presentations with all parties on what we know about shale gas development," Higgs said.
"We have to do something in New Brunswick. We can't just say no and expect things to go well, but we can do it right," he said.
In a corporate presentation, the company says if the moratorium is lifted they would drill five vertical evaluation wells, complete three existing wells, identify "sweet spots," and drill a second round of up to five horizontal wells.
Moran did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
The company says with the impending end of Nova Scotia's offshore production, natural gas will have to come from outside the Maritimes if the New Brunswick deposit is not further developed.
"We're going to have a serious increase in gas prices as our resources run out over the next few years. We need to avoid some of these things that we know are coming down the pipe," Higgs said.
The Opposition Liberals say want any change to the moratorium to be subject to a vote of the legislature.
When the Liberals imposed the moratorium, they listed five criteria that would have to be met in order to lift the moratorium, including "social licence."
Higgs said he doesn't know if that would mean having Sussex-area residents vote on the plan.
"We're talking about what that might look like. Sussex has been pretty clear," he said.
"What would concern me is a lot of people from outside coming in and trying to make an issue of this. That's not going to help our situation. I want to deal with the people that are there, not some people that want to create a disruption from the outside."
The former Tory government's decision to embrace the shale gas industry was polarizing -- a series of public protests culminated in a violent demonstration in the fall of 2013 in Rexton that saw 40 people arrested and six police vehicles burned.
Higgs said it needs to be clear that he's not talking about lifting the moratorium anywhere other than the Sussex area.
"This is about developing natural gas within that region. I've been very clear on that. It's not about opening it up anywhere else," he said.
The issue of fracking has been contentious in many places around the world, with opponents concerned about an impact on ground water and triggering earth tremors.
The only company drilling for shale gas in Britain temporarily suspended fracking last month after a mild earthquake. Cuadrilla said it halted drilling for 18 hours after a tremor was detected at its site in Little Plumpton, northwest England.
The British Geological Survey recorded the 0.8-magnitude quake. It followed several smaller tremors.
Fracking in Britain had previously been halted after two tremors in the same area led to legal challenges. It resumed on Oct. 15.