PENOBSQUIS, N.B. -- Premier David Alward strove to clearly set apart his position on energy from that of his main rival as the New Brunswick election campaign began Thursday, accusing Liberal Leader Brian Gallant of being hypocritical on the issue.

The Progressive Conservative leader swiftly denounced Gallant's stance on natural gas development, a contentious issue that has sparked protests but has been promoted by Alward as the province's path to prosperity.

Alward questioned how Gallant could say he backs the conversion of a liquefied natural gas facility in Saint John into an export terminal while opposing the very product the site relies on.

"Brian Gallant, here's some news: the last two letters in LNG stand for natural gas," Alward said as he launched his re-election bid in the rural community of Penobsquis.

In an effort to drive his pro-development message, Alward spoke in front of a field of natural gas wells owned by energy company Corridor Resources.

Alward also took issue with Gallant's support for the Energy East Pipeline, given the Liberal leader's position on natural gas. The project would see oil shipped from Alberta to Saint John if it proceeds.

"You can't support the pipe if you don't support what's in it," Alward said.

Gallant has called for a moratorium on shale gas exploration, saying the public should know more about the potential dangers of fracking before the province proceeds.

"We need a moratorium until we fully understand what the risks are to our water, environment and our health," Gallant said earlier in the day before opening his riding campaign headquarters in Dieppe.

Gallant said Alward has been too focused on fracking and is overlooking the need to grow the economy in more diversified ways.

"We have to invest in our infrastructure, we have to develop a skilled workforce, we have to help small- and medium-sized businesses, we have to have a tourism strategy and an immigration strategy," he said.

The state of the economy and efforts to prevent the exodus of young people seeking work in the west have long been sensitive issues in the province.

The deficit is expected to be $387.3 million this fiscal year, while the jobless rate hit 10 per cent last month.

Alward was elected premier in September 2010, partly on a promise that his Tory government would balance the books. It hasn't, but is now aiming to register balanced budgets in 2017-18.

This is Gallant's first election campaign as Liberal leader after taking the party's reins in October 2012. He will be joined by federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on Saturday at a rally in Fredericton.

The NDP, Greens and the People's Alliance of New Brunswick are also in the running. None of the three parties had any seats in the legislature going into the Sept. 22 election.

At dissolution, the Progressive Conservatives had 41 members, the Liberals 13 and there was one Independent.

The election will be fought on a new electoral map that cuts the number of seats in the legislature to 49 from 55.