FREDERICTON - The federal and New Brunswick governments have not entered formal negotiations to develop an offshore energy accord, nearly a year after the former premier said talks to draft such an agreement have begun.
Briefing notes for provincial Energy Minister Donald Arseneault say talks with Ottawa have been at a preliminary stage during the past year.
"However, the federal government has yet to provide NRCan (Natural Resources Canada) officials with a formal mandate to negotiate," say the briefing notes, obtained by The Canadian Press under a right-to-information request.
A spokeswoman for Natural Resources Canada said in an email that the provincial government has not made a request to its federal counterparts to initiate formal discussions.
Arseneault said he wants a better understanding of potential development before entering into such talks.
"We believe in developing our natural resource in a safe and responsible manner so we want to make sure if we're going to enter into such agreements, those principles don't change," the Liberal energy minister said.
It's unclear whether there is a commercially viable reservoir of oil or gas under New Brunswick's 2.3-million hectare offshore. Some seismic exploration work was carried out in the 1960s into the early 1980s, but that's as far as it went.
"The province of New Brunswick is quite far from even developing its offshore resources if there is some," Arseneault said. "This is a long process and we're going to make sure we're going to be able to do it."
He said his government needs to better understand what it is looking for before entering into formal talks with the federal government, including looking at the Atlantic Accords for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
"You have jurisdictions around us who have signed offshore deals and we want to make sure they don't impede on our territory either, so this is very important for the province of New Brunswick, but we're going to make sure it's done the right way so that we protect the interests of New Brunswick moving forward," he said.
"Almost half of the province is surrounded by water and everybody around us is getting an offshore deal, so it is just a matter of time when New Brunswick is at the table."
Last January, then-premier David Alward announced before a business audience his intentions to develop an offshore accord. At the time, it was estimated that the Atlantic Accords had given more than $5 billion to Newfoundland and Labrador and about $1.1 billion to Nova Scotia.
The agreements shelter Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador from offshore resource revenue clawbacks in equalization, though Newfoundland and Labrador stopped receiving payments from the federal wealth-sharing program in 2008.
The provincial Opposition said the New Brunswick government should make an offshore accord a higher priority.
"The current government's lack of interest in our offshore is a continuation of the lip service they give to resource development," said Tory energy critic Jake Stewart.
"The fact they are not aggressively pursuing this opportunity simply confirms their dismissal of growth through energy development in New Brunswick."
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