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Former Liberal premier Frank McKenna says environmental concerns should be respected, but not stand in the way of development. (CBC)

Former Liberal premier Frank McKenna says developing the shale gas industry could generate more than $7 billion in royalties and tax revenues for New Brunswick, bringing an end to the province's debt and deficit problems.

McKenna sided with Alward's Progressive Conservatives on the controversial issue during his speech at the sold out Saint John Board of Trade luncheon, which more than 500 political and business leaders attended on Monday.

The Opposition Liberals have called for a moratorium on shale gas.

McKenna, who is deputy chairman of TD Bank Group, said environmental concerns about shale gas need to be respected and addressed, but should not stop development.

New Brunswick's "survivability" is at issue, he said during his speech, entitled "Hope Restored — a future in energy."

McKenna said he was provoked to speak after listening to the "rather apocalyptic news of the last several months," including chronically high unemployment levels, "anemic" growth and the finance minister's warnings about the provincial deficit and likelihood of sharp tax increases.

He wanted to "connect some dots" and lay out a "possible path from doom and gloom to hope and prosperity," he said.

Direct investment, jobs

Last year, access to low-cost shale gas in the United States saved $107 billion and the industry boom has already created more than 1.7 million jobs, said McKenna.

"A confluence of conditions put Saint John, New Brunswick in an extraordinarily advantaged position to take advantage of this unprecedented energy revolution that is sweeping the world," he said.

Among them, the Canaport liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal, which could be converted into an export facility that could tap into lucrative foreign markets.

'The only luck we've had in the past few years is bad luck, but all of a sudden the stars are lined up in New Brunswick's favour right now.'—Frank McKenna, former premier

Reversing the LNG facility and exporting shale gas could result in a combined $17 billion in direct investment in New Brunswick, $4 billion in provincial tax revenue, $3 billion in provincial royalties and 150,000 person years of new jobs, he said.

McKenna has also previously spoken in favour of building a west-to-east pipeline, which, he says, could result in more than 5,700 direct construction jobs between Quebec and New Brunswick as well as additional jobs in receiving facilities and in exporting to foreign markets.

In addition, Saint John has a deep water port that can accommodate the largest vessels in the world and access to world class deposits of potash, he said.

"The only luck we've had in the past few years is bad luck, but all of a sudden the stars are lined up in New Brunswick's favour right now."

McKenna stressed he has no vested interest in the outcome of any of the energy products he discussed, despite his ties to the oil sands company, Canadian Natural Resources.

Premier David Alward, Energy Minister Craig Leonard and Liberal Leader Brian Gallant were among those who attended the luncheon.