FREDERICTON - New Brunswick's Conservative government and the Liberal Opposition are both promising free votes in the legislature on motions concerning shale gas exploration in the province.

The Liberals will present a motion Thursday calling for a moratorium and the creation of a select committee to study the shale gas industry.

The Conservatives will present a motion next week that supports exploration, but under strict regulations.

Government backbencher Kirk MacDonald presented a nearly 16,000-name petition Tuesday that calls for a ban on shale gas exploration.

While MacDonald said he had concerns about the industry, he would not say if he would back the demands of those who signed the petition.

Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup says while MacDonald is a team player for the Conservatives, he doesn't know how his colleague will vote on the motions.

(The Canadian Press)