11/09/2013 11:43 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 10:53 EST

Lure of shale gas royalties divides town

A CBC investigation into the shale gas industry in Pennsylvania shows communities are prospering as thousands of wells are being drilled and fracked, but the financial benefits don't necessarily add up to a better life.

As the David Alward government continues its plan to move ahead with shale gas development in spite of opposition, CBC News is looking at how the industry has played out in the state of Pennsylvania in the past six years.

Susquehanna is the poorest county in Pennsylvania, but it also has the richest deposits of natural gas.

When oil and gas companies came knocking, many people there saw dollar signs. For others, the cost was too high.

Susan Breese said her water is now contaminated.

“This is the water that I can't drink because it's been tested for high levels of heavy metals according to the [Department of Environmental Protection], you'd never know it to look at it because it looks clear,” she said.

Breese and some of her neighbours are suing Southwestern Energy, the same company that's at the centre of the shale gas debate in New Brunswick.

Victoria Switzer said methane and other chemicals ended up in her water.

She can't drink it and she also can't talk about it because she reached a settlement with Cabot Oil. She said the promise of royalties has divided her community.

“If you took the money out of the equation here, I think there would be a lot more people that would be speaking out and horrified and so forth, but they have financial gain at risk,” she said.

Dilemma at the heart of N.B. debate

Paying royalties to property owners was key to convincing people in Pennsylvania to allow hydraulic fracturing, but the same opportunity doesn't exist in New Brunswick.

Energy Minister Craig Leonard said New Brunswick landowners won't make as much money from shale gas development as those in Pennsylvania, but there will still be dollars flowing in.

There will be a two-tier system with lower royalties when companies are setting up and higher rates when they're making profits.

Leonard says despite that difference, the provincial government will ensure shale gas profits are spread around.