Premier David Alward said Monday he wants New Brunswickers to make an informed decision when it comes to shale gas exploration.
The premier was the guest speaker at a noon luncheon put on by the Greater Moncton Chamber of Commerce.
Alward told the crowd the province needs to embrace the shale gas industry as part of a "new approach" to boosting the economy.
Without increasing revenue, programs like health and education will suffer, he said.
"The reality is that if we're not able to develop our economy as a province then we can't afford to have the programs that people need," he said.
"It's interesting that the provinces who have been able to develop the oil and gas industry are the provinces that right now are providing financial support in a big way to other provinces."
Alward announced a new online forum called "Natural Gas from Shale" and said New Brunswickers will be consulted about the issue.
He also said he wants the province to have the strongest shale gas exploration regulations on the continent.
Municipalities vote down moratorium
Alward's speech followed a weekend in which his party was the subject of anti-fracking protests and the Union of the Municipalities of New Brunswick voted 22-to-18 against banning hydro-fracking, a common and controversial means of shale gas extraction.
Dozens of delegates who attended an annual convention of municipal governments in Fredericton were asked to vote on a moratorium that would have banned all testing and fracking until the province provides more information.
"I think the people who voted against this …. I'm sure they discussed it [but] they might not have it in their backyard, so it might not be as big a deal, but it is to us," said Hampton Town Councillor Robert Doucet. Hampton voted in favour of the ban.
"We need to know the facts before we can support [shale gas exploration]," Doucet said.
A unified ban by municipalities would have been a mostly symbolic gesture.
Doucet said on the weekend that the province must do a better job of explaining how it plans to mitigate the risks associated with fracking – a practice in which water and chemicals are forced deep into the earth to release natural gas.
Opponents of fracking have said it is a dangerous threat to drinking water.
Fredericton voted against the moratorium in order to give the province more time to explain itself and respond to public concerns.
"I take the minister at her word," said Fredericton Coun. Stephen Chase.
"I think everybody is looking for answers to these questions. I think most New Brunswickers are open to hearing responses."
Representatives of Sackville, who already declared a moratorium in that town, said the province was fear-mongering by warning local governments not to vote against a practice that could be the province's economic salvation.
Given the tone of the presentation, they said they consider 45 per cent support for the proposed moratorium a success.
Tory convention protests
Hydro-fracking has transformed into one of the most controversial issues facing Alward's Progressive Conservative government, with protests across the province in recent months.
A handful of anti-fracking protesters showed up at the annual meeting of the PC party in Fredericton on Friday, stopping party members to give them information.
The protesters were asked by the Fredericton Police, on behalf of hotel staff, to leave the property. They moved to the sidewalk near the hotel entrance.
In the hydro-fracking process, companies extract natural gas using a pressurized mix of water and other substances injected into shale rock formations or coal beds. That high-pressure mix creates or widens fissures in the rock, so gas can escape from pores and fractures.
Critics are concerned that fracking uses high volumes of water, drawing down and polluting natural water bodies, as well as degrading groundwater.