Natural Gas 101 explores what natural gas is, how it is used in Atlantic Canada, and what its future role may be in the region.

But how does natural gas get to consumers in the region?

Some natural gas is delivered to customers by truck. This is this case for some customers in the Maritime provinces, but its availability is limited in Newfoundland and Labrador in particular.

The majority of natural gas used in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia is delivered by underground pipeline, commonly known as the natural gas grid.

What is the natural gas grid?

The natural gas grid is a system of interconnected pipelines that transport natural gas from production facilities to end-users, including residential, commercial, and industrial consumers.

The grid system consists of three major types of pipelines along the transportation route: gathering pipelines, interstate/intrastate pipelines, and distribution pipelines.

Gathering systems consist of low-pressure, small-diameter pipelines that transport raw natural gas from wells located at extraction sites to the processing plants. Interstate pipelines transport natural gas across state and provincial boundaries.

The distribution pipelines are how natural gas is transported to end-users. Compressor stations throughout the pipelines helps ensure the gas is pressurized enough to reach customers.

How does natural gas get to Atlantic Canada?

Atlantic Canada relies on natural gas imported from the United States, with some sourced indirectly from western Canada through the United States. This reliance increased after the shutdown of Nova Scotia’s offshore natural gas production in 2018. The primary transportation method for natural gas to markets across Atlantic Canada and the northeastern United States is through the extensive 1,101 km transmission pipeline operated by Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline (M&NP).

MN&P’s pipeline was initially built to transport natural gas from offshore developments in Nova Scotia to markets in Atlantic Canada and the northeastern United States. However, since the shutdown of Nova Scotia’s offshore gas developments in 2018, the flow direction has reversed, now moving south-to-north.

M&NP’s pipeline consists of an underground mainline with approximately 30″/24″ diameter, extending from Baileyville, Maine to the U.S.-Canadian border, continuing into New Brunswick and onwards to Goldboro, Nova Scotia. Additionally, lateral pipelines connect to the M&NP mainline, serving Halifax, Moncton, the McCully gas field near Sussex, and Saint John.

Liquified natural gas (LNG) is also imported by ship at the Saint John LNG facility. LNG is produced by purifying natural gas and super-cooling it to -162 degrees Celsius. The cooling process reduces the volume of natural gas by more than 600 times, which makes it easier and safer to store and transport.

Re-gasification then takes place at the Saint John LNG facility, which then sends natural gas (mostly) to the United States via the Brunswick Pipeline and later the pipeline operated by Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline. Emera New Brunswick’s Brunswick Pipeline is 145km long is 30” in diameter and is almost entirely underground.

Local natural gas distribution by grid is operated by two companies in the Maritimes:

  • Liberty Utilities operates distribution pipelines in New Brunswick. Liberty serves over 12,400 customers in 14 communities in southern New Brunswick using 852km of pipeline.

Availability Map:

  • Eastward Energy operates distribution pipelines in Nova Scotia. Eastward Energy serves approximately 5,000 residential and 3,500 commercial customers in Halifax, Dartmouth, Amherst, Oxford, New Glasgow and Stellarton. Their distribution system consists of roughly 470km of pipelines.

Availability Map:

What is the future role of the natural gas grid in Atlantic Canada’s net-zero future?

Natural gas and the natural gas grid will continue to be an important aspect of the energy sector as Atlantic Canada moves toward a net-zero future. While there will likely be less natural gas used as the region decarbonizes its energy supply, natural gas will still be relied on by industry and for electricity generation, especially to help meet peak demand.

The regional natural gas supply is expected to partially decarbonize by blending in clean fuels such as low-carbon hydrogen and renewable natural gas. As these clean fuels become more prevalent in the natural gas grid, it will likely be referred to as a ‘gas grid,’ reflecting the blending of multiple gases.

Consequently, the gas grid will continue to be a crucial component of the region’s energy distribution network, ensuring that customers have access to a reliable and sufficient supply of natural gas, as well as the blend of natural gas with clean fuels, to fulfill their varying needs.

Due to Atlantic Canada’s gas grid being predominantly underground and modern compared to gas grids elsewhere in North America, it is highly reliable, and outages rarely happen. Extreme weather events are expected to become increasingly common, thus having a reliable supply of energy that the gas grid supplies will likely become increasingly important for customers.