The New Brunswick Business Council has commissioned a survey of 500 members to determine how they could benefit directly from the development of the controversial shale gas industry in the province.

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Susan Holt of the N.B. Business Council wants companies to start talking about shale gas to ensure they don't miss out on future opportunities. (CBC)

Susan Holt, the president of the New Brunswick Business Council, said now the council has learned more about the phases of development and production, it needs to know whether local companies can be part of the supply chain.

"Now we're going out to survey New Brunswick businesses to understand whether they can deliver those services and products in the volume that the industry requires," she said.

Holt said the council is trying to understand what potential is there for her members.

"We want to know the magnitude of the economic opportunity," said Holt.

"Economic activity in the province is a good thing — we want to have people here and work being done but it's an even better thing when it's our own companies that can deliver that work."

Survey timely

Holt said she is not surprised by recent comments by a spokesperson for SWN Resources who said there is only a 10 per cent chance the company will establish shale gas production in the province.

'We don't consider shale gas by any stretch of the imagination the magic formula for us'—Energy Minister Craig Leonard

"From what I've seen [developers] are a pretty conservative, pessimistic group and they make assumptions based on the data that they collect at each stage in the process and we still have quite a bit of data to collect," Holt said.

Given that pessimism and uncertainty, Holt still believes this is the time to survey New Brunswick businesses. She said Nova Scotia's business community lost out on opportunities in the offshore industry because they weren't ready.

"We think now's the perfect time to do it so that if there is opportunity there, and the industry does go ahead, that New Brunswick businesses don't miss out like what happened in Nova Scotia."

Shale gas isn't 'magic formula'

Energy Minister Craig Leonard said on Tuesday that even though there is significant potential for a shale gas industry in the southern half of the province, determining whether production will ever go ahead is a long way off.

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Energy Minister Craig Leonard said the government does not consider shale gas the "magic formula" for the province. (CBC)

"We don't consider shale gas by any stretch of the imagination the magic formula for us," Leonard said.

He says the exploration phase is significant on its own, citing SWN Resources and its $47-million investment and employment of as many as 170 people during past seismic testing.

"So even through this exploratory phase we feel that there's good positive economic development taking place."

Leonard says his government is continuing to focus on other areas including natural resources development, innovation and research and development.

Up to business to balance economic possibility, environmental risk

Holt said the council has been collecting information on shale gas development and production in an effort to come up with a position on the controversial issue.

She said the survey is part of that collection of information.

"You know we're inclined by nature to view anything that brings economic activity to the province positively — we want to see jobs, we need to see a balanced budget, and this industry suggests that it will bring revenues to the province and that's a good thing but it's not revenues at all costs," Holt said. 

"If you're a company that provides trucking services or pours cement, and you learn that you might be able to get a $2-million contract from one of the developers for the next five years what does that mean for your company? What does that mean for your employment base, and how do you weigh that up against whatever you perceive to be the risk or the impact of the environmental side?"

Even if the council does take a position, she said it will be up to individual companies to determine whether they want to supply the shale gas industry.