Energy Minister Craig Leonard says the benefits of drilling for natural gas can't be evaluated until New Brunswick goes ahead with some projects. (CBC)

New Brunswick's energy minister says it's too soon to speculate how many jobs the shale gas industry could create in the province.

Earlier this week, an analysis by the Conference Board of Canada said natural gas production would create 129,000 jobs per year across the country.

But New Brunswick was not part of that outlook because exploration and development regulations are still in the works.

'We need to find out what's down there and if it can be extracted economically.' —Energy Minister Craig Leonard

Energy Minister Craig Leonard says much about the shale gas industry in New Brunswick is still up in the air.

"We're not sure what's there," he told CBC News.

"It's so hard to put a finger on it because you get one study that says that there [are] astronomical [amounts,] you get another that it shows it could be relatively small. And what I take from it all is that it's really dependent on the jurisdiction itself," said Leonard.

"We don't know if we can get whatever gas is down there out economically and actually build an industry off it," he said.

"So I think that's the key thing is to look at it from the perspective of — yup, we need to find out what's down there and if it can be extracted economically and then we can determine what size and scope this industry could be in New Brunswick," the minister said.

"We need to do it in a safe and responsible manner and do it incrementally so we can actually see on a few different projects — are the regulations working, how much employment actually is being developed from it, and what are the benefits and the paybacks from these projects."

Regulations pending

Last month, Leonard announced the Alward government is pushing ahead with a new regulatory regime to oversee any future development of the controversial industry in the province.

Opponents to shale gas exploration have called for an outright ban on the contentious industry, while the Opposition Liberals have indicated a moratorium is needed until more research can be done.

Leonard argues two reports submitted to government concluded a moratorium was neither required nor desirable.

The new regulations will set standards for water usage, construction activities, monitoring standards for natural gas sites and staffing guidelines to guarantee proper inspection and environmental oversight of natural gas projects, he has said.

The Conference Board of Canada expects the country's natural gas industry will add more than $1 trillion to the national economy over the next 24 years and support an average of 260,000 jobs a year over that time frame, according to the analysis published on Monday.

The industry already produces $24.5 billion a year and employs 130,000 people, the report said.