Natural gas will play an ever expanding role over the next decade to meet the energy needs of New Brunswick (NB), according to a 10-year energy plan unveiled by the New Brunswick Department of Energy on Wednesday.

The 42-page "New Brunswick Energy Blueprint" calls on the provincial government to take 20 actions in the energy sector over the next three years, chief among them to reconsolidate NB Power into a single utility.

The report said a former Progressive Conservative (PC) government erred in 2004 when it divided NB Power into five separate companies to help foster competition. According to the report, the plan failed because the province is a small jurisdiction with a small electricity market.

"As a result [of the breakup of NB Power] we have an electric utility structure, a market structure and rules that are overly complex and provide little or no value to New Brunswickers," the report said. "Reintegration of the utility will address these issues."

Fifteen of the 67 recommendations contained in the report specifically mention natural gas, but noticeably absent was any reference to shale gas development or the emerging Frederick Brook Shale. The omission may have been intentional; last month a veteran political scientist warned that Premier David Alward and the PC party could be turned out of office over voter outrage surrounding hydraulic fracturing (fracking) (see Shale Daily, Sept. 2).

"The Province of New Brunswick and NB Power will continue to use natural gas as a source of energy where it is feasible and economic to do so," the report said, adding that a comprehensive review of the province's natural gas rate structure, distribution network and regulation -- one of the 20 action items -- would be undertaken to "promote the increased use of natural gas in the province, by presenting consumers with a cleaner and more economical alternative."

Although it did not mention fracking by name, the report made two veiled references to the practice and indicated continuing government support for it (see Shale Daily, Aug. 15; June 24).

"New Brunswick has secure access to natural gas from several sources," the report said. "The province also supports the application of new technologies that provide economic access to natural gas and will work with proponents who pursue such opportunities."

In another reference to fracking, the government said it had been urged to ensure natural gas wells were not sited in areas that would adversely affect property owners. To remedy these concerns, the government said it was working with the Environment and Natural Resources departments to develop "an enhanced regulatory framework for the sustainable development of oil and gas resources."

Earlier this year the New Brunswick Energy Commission (NBEC) recommended that the provincial government pursue a connection between the Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline and the TransCanada Pipeline in Quebec (see Shale Daily, June 2). In its report, the government said that although it supports a connection, it doesn't believe one will be built anytime soon.

"Expansion of the national gas transmission network between Atlantic Canada and Quebec would benefit some areas of New Brunswick not currently accessible by pipeline," the report said. "The province would be in support of a national network, although current analysis suggests that, because of economic and market conditions, such a project would not be viable at this time."

The government added that "access to natural gas in areas not already served depends on its technical and economic viability. The province supports expanded distribution of natural gas and will work with proponents who pursue such opportunities."

Another action item calls for the government to develop and implement a research and development (R&D) strategy to support clean energy technologies, which includes natural gas.

"The province will establish a coordinated approach to facilitating research with respect to the sustainable and economic use of New Brunswick's natural resources, including natural gas, biomass, and wind, solar, geothermal, tidal and hydro," the report said. "In addition, energy related [R&D] activities in New Brunswick will focus on how residents, business and industry can reduce their use of energy through improved product standards and building codes, emerging energy efficiency and smart grid technologies, and cogeneration and district heating systems."

That focus will purportedly include looking at the use of compressed natural gas (CNG), liquefied natural gas (LNG) and the province's purchase of fleet vehicles that use CNG and LNG. The report said the province's Department of Transportation "is leading [our] efforts to explore new and innovative fleet management systems ... [and] will continue to conduct pilot projects in these areas ... as the technology becomes more readily available and affordable."

The report also raised another recommendation from the NBEC: establishing an offshore oil and gas agreement with the federal government.

"[We] will be seeking to resume discussions with the federal government in relation to the development of a joint offshore management regime," the report said.