New Brunswick has been named the best place in the world for mining companies to do business, which has environmentalists calling for stricter regulations.

The province had previously been ranked 23 in the Fraser Institute’s annual survey of mining companies, but shot up to unseat Alberta as the number one place for mineral exploration and development in the organization's latest survey.

"Miners look at New Brunswick and they see a regulatory climate that's solid," said Fred McMahon, co-ordinator of the survey and vice-president international research for the think-tank that specializes in government policies and the economy.

The province's top spot is based on data from executives at about 800 mining companies who responded to the survey, he said. The survey was sent to 5,000 companies.

McMahon declined to disclose how many New Brunswick companies responded, or which ones they were.

But respondents lauded the provincial government for having a fair, transparent, and efficient legal system and for consistency in the enforcement and interpretation of environmental regulations, he said.

The provincial government also got good marks for its competitive tax regime and minimal uncertainty around disputed land claims.

Too much freedom

Tracy Glynn, who follows mining issues for the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, said she believes the provincial government is attractive because the industry has a lot of freedom to do what it wants.

"Look at the case of Penobsquis where people lost drinking water and the years of torment they have to go through to receive compensation," she said.

A group of citizens in the southern community lost their water and have blamed that on the nearby PotashCorp mine.

"While our government talks about taking a balanced approach, clearly industry is flocking to New Brunswick for a reason," said Glynn.

"We might not necessarily have huge ore bodies, but we do have a policy jurisdiction that makes it very profitable for mining companies to operate here."

The provincial government has faced mounting criticism in the past year over shale gas exploration and the controversial use of the hydraulic fracturing, also known as hydro-fracking.

It's a process that involves exploration companies injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground, creating cracks in shale rock formations so they can extract natural gas from areas that would otherwise go untapped.

Opponents of the shale gas industry have raised concerns about water contamination and the industrialization of rural areas.

Glynn wants to see the provincial government tighten up regulations for environmental impact assessments on new mining projects, such as the open pit tungsten and molybdenum mine being proposed for the Stanley area.

Premier David Alward has said he wants to impose the continent’s toughest shale gas regulations on companies working in the province.

He has committed to introducing an environmental protection plan this year that would cover industrial developments, including hydro-fracking.