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Anti-Shale gas group launches legal action against New Brunswick government

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SAINT JOHN, N.B. - A group of New Brunswickers concerned with the development of a shale gas industry have launched legal action against the provincial government in an effort to halt exploration in the province.

The New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance filed the 18-page statement of claim Monday with the Court of Queen's Bench in Saint John.

The alliance — which includes 22 community organizations — is calling for a moratorium on the development of unconventional shale gas and oil in New Brunswick until scientific studies show it can be done safely.

"As part of that, we would be asking for an injunction to halt any present activities until such time as the case can be heard," group spokesman Jim Emberger said in an interview.

The group is concerned that shale gas wells pose a danger to water and the air.

Emberger said the group has appealed to the government for 3 1/2 years with no success and taking legal action was a last resort.

"It's just the only recourse we have left to defend ourselves from what we think is a very serious threat to our health," he said.

The group plans to fight the issue on constitutional grounds, said Emberger.

"In section seven of the charter, which guarantees the right to be secure in our persons... would include having clean water to drink and air to breathe," he said.

The statement of claim provides a detailed description of the shale gas industry and how the gas is extracted from deep underground, including the practice of hydro-fracking.

That's the process where fluids or gas and chemicals are pumped underground at high pressure to fracture layers of shale rock to release trapped pockets of shale gas.

The court document details a number of scientific studies and issues that have occurred at well sites in places such as Quebec and Pennsylvania.

"We have scientific, peer-reviewed, independent data to back up every single claim," Emberger said.

He said Premier David Alward's Progressive Conservative government has dismissed scientific evidence about the threat posed by the industry.

The government has been promoting the industry in the hopes it will create jobs and revenue.

New Brunswick Attorney General Hugh Flemming said the government has recieved notification of the legal action.

"I can assure the people of New Brunswick that the Department of Energy and Mines has always proceeded with shale gas exploration and development in a thorough, thoughtful, safe and responsible manner," said Flemming in an email statement.

Flemming said the development of natural resources has always been a critical component of the government's plan for the future of the province.

The government can now file a statement of defence.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers declined comment while the matter is before the courts.

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