SWN Resources' Chad Peters says shale gas supporters should not be bullied into silence. (Canadian Press)

A major player in shale gas exploration in New Brunswick is asking supporters to speak up.

Chad Peters, the manager of exploration for SWN Resources Canada, made the appeal at a public luncheon hosted by the Miramichi Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.

He says the company is open to talking to anyone who wants to have a respectful conversation, but he believes it's time the public heard more from shale gas proponents.

"If you believe that this industry can help us move this province's economy forward, then you need to speak out. You need to say that those who are speaking loudly in opposition to this industry do not speak for you," said Peters.

"We should not be forced to be quiet. It's time to stand up and say, 'I want this industry in New Brunswick. I want the opportunity it brings, I know it can be done safely, as it is in other parts of Canada, where my neighbour works.'"

SWN Resources Canada has been conducting shale gas exploration work in New Brunswick, trying to determine whether it's feasible to develop the industry.

The company plans to drill four exploratory wells in 2015 — two in Kent County, in Saint-Charles and Galloway, and two in Queens County, in the vicinity of Bronston Settlement Road and the Pangburn area.

'I think it's a great opportunity for New Brunswick. As long as we do it responsibly, I think we're going to have a great future here.' - Hal Raper, Miramichi Lumber

"Until we drill a well, we don't know if there's any hydrocarbons in the subsurface," said Peters. "This is a wild cat exploration … It's a one in 10 chance that we'll find what we're looking for. We're just very hopeful that we do."

Hal Raper, who owns Miramichi Lumber, says he's been on board with the idea since the beginning, and isn't shy about sharing his opinion.

"I think it's a great opportunity for New Brunswick," he said. "As long as we do it responsibly, I think we're going to have a great future here in New Brunswick."

'Could turn the tide'

Area resident Dan Richard says he is thankful SWN Resources is taking a chance on New Brunswick. He currently travels west for work, but says he would rather be at home with his wife and children.

"You don't see each other for six months … and it's hard, but to see something that could turn the tide and bring us all home — we could live here, work here and do the stuff we love to do as New Brunswickers here," Richard said.

But not everyone agrees.

The prospect of shale gas development in New Brunswick has sparked protests right across the province. Opponents say the hydraulic fracturing process used in exploration can cause water and air pollution.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as hydro-fracking, involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground, creating cracks in shale rock formations, thereby allowing companies to extract natural gas from areas that would otherwise go untapped.

A recent report commissioned by Environment Canada found there's little information about the effects of shale gas development on the environment.

The report by a panel of 14 international experts concluded "data about potential environmental impacts are neither sufficient nor conclusive."

Seismic testing by SWN in the Kent County area last year was interrupted by ongoing protests.

On Oct. 17, a protest in Rexton ended in a violent clash between protesters and RCMP officers. Six RCMP vehicles were set on fire and dozens of protesters were arrested in an incident that set off a wave of sympathy protests across the country.

The Alward government is committed to developing the shale gas industry, while the Opposition Liberals have repeatedly called for a moratorium.