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A bill brought forward by the Green Party of New Brunswick to ban oil and gas exploration and drilling within the province’s borders was defeated in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday.

Progressive Conservative MLA Bruce Fitch said if the bill were to pass, it would “only cause more problems” for people in New Brunswick. He said previous “exploration of various hydrocarbons” has funnelled money into health care and education, for example.

“Those dividends are allowing us to realize the health outcomes of the people in New Brunswick to be better than if we were impoverished,” he said.

“And that's where we're seeing it — not just here in New Brunswick, right across the other provinces — where exploration of gas and oil has led to development, has led to increased GDP, has led to increased revenue, and that revenue has gone to help the people in the province in New Brunswick.”

Susan Holt, leader of the Liberal Party, said rather than expand oil and gas, the government needs to take “significant steps toward protecting our environment and our health.”

In May, Green Party Leader David Coon tabled the bill with “urgency” after Premier Blaine Higgs said he would pursue fracked gas development with or without First Nations' consent. The premier has since said the government will still respect the duty to consult, but opposition politicians say he has shown he is willing to skirt consultation.

A moratorium on fracking in New Brunswick was imposed in 2013 after huge pushback and protests from Indigenous supporters — many from Elsipogtog First Nation — and other opponents. Coon noted that didn’t stop Higgs from discreetly carving out an exception in the Sussex area of the province in 2019. Those plans were later abandoned, but Coon warned that without clear legislation banning fracking, more projects could come forward.

Following Higgs’ comments, the Wolastoqey Nation — which represents the Matawaskiye (Madawaska), Wotstak (Woodstock), Neqotkuk (Tobique), Bilijk (Kingsclear), Sitansisk (St. Mary's) and Welamuktok (Oromocto) First Nations — spoke out, as did Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Inc. (MTI), a group representing the nine Mi’gmaq communities in New Brunswick.

In May, Green Party Leader @DavidCCoon tabled the bill with “urgency,” he said, after Premier Blaine Higgs said he would pursue fracked gas development with or without First Nations' consent.

“The issue could get ugly here,” Chief Allan Polchies Jr. of Sitansisk, St. Mary’s First Nation, told Canada’s National Observer.

Shale gas is a natural gas made mostly of methane that is stored underground and extracted through fracking, a drilling method that injects water, chemicals and sand at extremely high pressures. The process has been found to leak methane — shale gas extraction in the United States was partly to blame for a global spike in methane emissions, according to 2019 research from Cornell University. There is also evidence fracking contaminates groundwater and that the chemicals used in the process cause health problems in nearby communities.

Holt said Higgs, a former Irving Oil executive, has been looking in the “rearview mirror” when it comes to the province’s energy future.

“Here we have a government where the premier takes the world stage to pitch yesterday's energy solution. Aside from it being a poor business strategy, it's also pretty embarrassing,” she said, referencing Higgs’ recent trip to Europe, where he pitched fracked gas as a transition fuel.

She said rather than investing in shale gas, which “no one is looking to invest in,” the province should support the development of clean energy in partnerships with First Nations.

In April 2022, Quebec became the first jurisdiction in the world to ban oil and gas development in its borders.

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“Progressive Conservative MLA Bruce Fitch said if the bill were to pass, it would “only cause more problems” for people in New Brunswick. He said previous “exploration of various hydrocarbons” has funnelled money into health care and education, for example.”
So MLA Fitch would prefer a different kind of “more problems”, those caused by fire, smoke and flooding.