Progressive Conservative MLA Kirk MacDonald admits the shale gas issue is "challenging" for him as he balances the opposition of some of his constituents and the policy of his government.

MacDonald, who was first elected in 1999, presented an anti-shale petition in the legislature on Tuesday with almost 16,000 signatures.

MacDonald would not endorse or repudiate the petition’s call for a ban on shale gas development.

However, he said he shares the same questions and concerns as some of his constituents.

"I want to make sure the proper environmental protections are in place. I realize that there is also a need for economic development in the area," he said.

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"I fully appreciate that. But I want to make sure that the necessary environmental protections are in place as much as anyone."

The Tory MLA, a landowner in a shale-exploration area, says people in his riding still have questions about whether government regulations will protect the environment.

In August, MacDonald met with shale gas protesters near Stanley who were blockading trucks owned by SWN Resources Canada that were conducting seismic testing in the area.

Three top executives of shale gas companies operating in New Brunswick have written opinion articles for CBC News and they all say that protecting the environment is a chief concern for them.

Political fallout

The Tory MLA’s decision to table a petition in the legislature that criticizes policy of his own government is rare.

But MacDonald also said he's not breaking ranks with the Alward government.

"In families you sometimes have a difference of opinion, but I still am wholeheartedly behind the Progressive Conservative party of New Brunswick," he said.

MacDonald’s York North riding covers a wide swath of territory in western New Brunswick.

Many communities in that area are covered by leases owned by shale gas companies that are exploring there.

Peter de Marsh lives in MacDonald's riding and voted for him in the past. De Marsh also protested shale exploration this summer.

"He is taking very seriously the incredibly strong opposition right across his constituency. He's a model constituency MLA," de Marsh said.

Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup has been articulating the provincial government’s position for months, including its refusal to impose a moratorium on shale gas exploration.

Northrup, however, wasn't bothered by his fellow Tory's stance.

"I have the utmost respect for my colleague on this side of the House. He's representing his people in his area," he said.

But it may become harder for MacDonald to keep doing that. Northrup has introduced a resolution to have the legislature endorse shale gas exploration, a resolution on which MacDonald will have to vote yes or no.