An economic consultant in Moncton says shale gas development may be something a lot of New Brunswickers oppose, but with unemployment hitting 20 per cent of people in the northeastern part of the province, it has to be considered.

David Campbell says unless major projects are found, people will have to continue leaving New Brunswick to find work.

"We have a number of opportunities in the mining sector, in oil and gas, and I know these are controversial sectors, but on the other hand, they hold tremendous potential for job creation, good wages and good economic benefits from these jobs," he said.

"And I think government has to take seriously the opportunities in mining and particularly in the area of shale gas development."

Campbell says it's not just important for people living in northeastern New Brunswick.

Fewer jobs mean less tax revenue and everyone is affected by the cuts in services and tax increases to make up the difference, he said.

"We lost a lot of large, anchor employers in northern New Brunswick, forest products mills, mines and things like that. And when you lose those anchors, it really has a ripple effect throughout the entire economy," said Campbell. "We've really never recovered from that in northern New Brunswick.

"Back in the 1950s, northern New Brunswick actually grew its population faster than southern New Brunswick. But without those large employers and that base of economic activity, it's hard to see the economy turning around up there," he said.

Could generate more than $7B

Energy Minister Craig Leonard has said it's too soon to speculate how many jobs the shale gas industry could create in the province because so much about the industry is still up in the air.

The Conference Board of Canada has estimated natural gas production will create 129,000 jobs per year across the country, but New Brunswick was not part of that outlook because exploration and development regulations were still in the works.

Provincial officials unveiled new rules governing the oil and gas industry last month, saying they will be among the strictest in North America.

Former Liberal premier Frank McKenna has said developing the shale gas industry could generate more than $7 billion in royalties and tax revenues, which would end the province's debt and deficit problems.

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

Opponents have raised concerns about the impact the hydraulic-fracturing process, commonly known as hydro-fracking, would have on water supplies.

The process involves companies injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground, creating cracks in shale rock formations, enabling them to extract natural gas from areas that would otherwise go untapped.