HALIFAX -- Nova Scotia's premier moved Thursday to clarify remarks he made to a business audience about the province's ban on hydraulic fracturing.
Earlier this week, Stephen McNeil told the Halifax Chamber of Commerce that if a community decides it will give a "social licence" to initiate fracking, the province would be "happy to join them."
The premier appeared to be signalling his intention to eventually lift the ban, but on Thursday he dialled back his response.
"Let me be clear, there has obviously been some confusion," he said following a cabinet meeting. "We have no intention of changing the position of the province at this point."
McNeil said that if any community brings forward a broad consensus on the possibility of fracking in their area, his government would look at the information.
However, he said the province has no plans to hold consultations, adding that it would be up to communities or private companies to hold public consultations if they are interested in doing so.
The premier said the government would then consider how to proceed.
"We would obviously listen with the community and then we would have to make a decision as a government," he said.
NDP Leader Gary Burrill said there are now clear demarcations on where the three main political parties stand on the ban. He said the Progressive Conservatives are "wildly enthusiastic" about fracking, while his party "wants nothing to do with the fracking business whatsoever."
"The Liberal Party talks out of both sides of their mouth," said Burrill. "They bring in a legislated ban but they don't enact ... and they say one thing to one audience and another to another audience somewhere else."
The Liberals passed legislation banning fracking in 2014, but have not proclaimed it.
The government recently released an Energy Department analysis that listed the economic potential of onshore natural gas at between US$20-billion and US$60-billion.
The analysis, known as the Nova Scotia Onshore Petroleum Atlas, estimates the province is sitting on about seven trillion cubic feet of hydrocarbons when conventional natural gas reserves are included.
About US$40 billion of that potential exists in shale gas, which would require hydraulic fracturing to extract it.
McNeil played down a recent letter from Guysborough County Council that asked for a reconsideration of the ban, saying it will take more than a council vote.
"The onshore atlas doesn't show that there's any product at all in Guysborough," he said. "The (council) can be interested but it would be the community."
The Energy Department later confirmed in an email that it had received correspondence from Guysborough, but it would only say that, "We're working on a response to the letter."