10/23/2013 05:56 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Craig Leonard defends record on shale consultation

The New Brunswick government is challenging charges that it failed to consult with the aboriginal community about shale gas exploration and development.

That idea has been put forward by aboriginal leaders, anti-shale groups and political opponents of the Alward government as a contributing factor to the violence on the protest line in Rexton last Thursday, when 40 protesters were arrested and five police vehicles were set on fire.

But in a statement released late Tuesday, Energy Minister Craig Leonard stated the government "has gone above and beyond to ensure that First Nations have full details about the current program."

Leonard released a list of more than a dozen workshops and meetings that involved aboriginal communities or leaders and SWN Resources Canada dating back to July 2012. Some of the most recent initiatives listed are:

- July 2013, an elder information session involving 23 elders representing First Nations in the Assembly of First Nation Chiefs of New Brunswick.

- August 2013, an invitation by SWN Resources Canada to the chief and council Elsipogtog First Nation to visit Arkansas.

- September 2013, a presentation to New Brunswick First Nations by the Indian Resource Council, a group representing First Nations involved in oil and gas production.

"We, as government, have also been consistently meeting with the chiefs and councils of New Brunswick First Nations and the Assembly of First Nations Chiefs of New Brunswick to discuss how we can ensure natural resource development provides significant economic opportunities to First Nations,” said Leonard.

Benefits to aboriginal community?

SWN Resources had been carrying out seismic testing in Kent County this summer to gauge the potential for shale gas development. The province issued a permit to SWN to carry out the testing, and the government states the seismic program "was determined by the Crown to have a negligible risk of adverse impact on Aboriginal land use or treaty rights."

It was also recommended that SWN notify the adjacent First Nations about the seismic program and compile information on the traditional use of the proposed seismic route and discuss related issues and concerns.

Further consultation with First Nations would happen if shale gas development proceeds in the province, said Leonard.

"As we have said all along, if oil and gas reserves are found through the exploration process, the government and proponents would have to enter into further consultations with First Nations to ensure that the environment was protected and that Aboriginal peoples benefited from oil and gas development, in addition to abiding by regulations such as the environmental assessment and permitting processes required by the province before any drilling or extraction was to take place."

Leonard has said previously there is a "sliding scale" when it comes to its duty to consult.  And in the case of seismic testing, Leonard had maintained the duty to consult is met when the province notifies aboriginal communities that the testing is going on.