Craig Leonard's comments came Thursday after the RCMP blocked Highway 11 in northeastern New Brunswick for a few hours because of a demonstration intended to stop the energy company from conducting seismic testing.
"We hope protests remain peaceful and lawful and hopefully SWN will be able to get their work done in the allotted time that they're looking at," Leonard said. "Then we can determine if there actually is a resource there."
RCMP Const. Jullie Rogers-Marsh said several pieces of equipment and a truck belonging to a private company working in the area of the protest near Laketon, N.B., about 30 kilometres south of Miramichi, were damaged. She declined to say what company owned the truck.
A 46-year-old woman was also arrested at the protest site for mischief, assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest, and traffic on the highway was rerouted for several hours due to safety concerns, she said. The road was reopened by late afternoon.
Protesters have gathered in the area for the past few days in anticipation of a resumption of shale gas exploration by SWN Resources, which had placed equipment along the highway to conduct seismic testing.
A spokesman for the company declined comment.
Last month, during a protest in nearby Rexton, 40 people were arrested and weapons seized when the Mounties enforced a court-ordered injunction to end the blockade of a compound where SWN Resources stored exploration equipment and vehicles.
The protesters say they're concerned that a shale gas industry poses a threat to the environment. They are particularly concerned with hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The process involves injecting water and chemicals into a well to fracture layers of shale rock to release trapped pockets of natural gas.
On Thursday, Unifor, a union that represents some workers in the energy sector, called for a Canada-wide moratorium on all new oil and gas fracking.
In a statement, the union said it is raising concerns about the safety and environmental risks associated with fracking as well as the lack of informed consent by First Nations about fracking activities on traditional lands.
"Unconventional gas fracking has the potential to have catastrophic effects on our environment and economy," said Unifor president Jerry Dias.
But Leonard said New Brunswick is forging ahead with the shale gas industry.
"The reality is that we have the science, we have the facts behind us to understand what the reality is, and that's why we have made the decision to move forward with this very important industry in New Brunswick," Leonard said.
The province's Progressive Conservative government is banking on a shale gas industry to create much needed jobs and revenue.