Halifax natural gas trader Todd McDonald says he is “bullish” about the outlook for oil and gas, noting that the economy is recovering much better than expected with travel, consumer spending and real estate all on the rise.

Natural gas, he says, is a cost-competitive fuel that will be needed for many decades to come.

“It’s a lot bigger than people think,” says McDonald, CEO of Energy Atlantica. “At least 30 million homes along the Eastern seaboard use natural gas today.”

“Here in Nova Scotia, the plan is to be off coal by 2030. We already have a lot of wind and solar on the grid but you need a backup system so when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, we can still turn on the lights. Natural gas will play an important role in maintaining that energy security.”

McDonald founded Energy Atlantica in 2005. An energy trading company, it specializes in the physical and financial management of natural gas and natural gas transportation assets for clients in Eastern Canada and the Northeast United States.

He says the price of oil and gas has fluctuated significantly in the past 14 or 15 months, so he finds customers prefer long-term contracts or fixed-price products to avoid the volatility.

“A good analogy is interest rates,” McDonald says. “Imagine you own an apartment building or a bunch of homes and you renew your mortgage and one day it’s three per cent, then the next day it’s nine per cent, then 14.5 per cent, and then five. That would be hard to tolerate as a business owner. That’s what has been happening in natural gas and, to some extent, oil.”

McDonald says natural gas is the best transition fuel as the world moves towards clean energy with more countries like China saying they want to reduce dependence on coal and increase use of natural gas.

McDonald says that in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, about 50,000 homes and businesses now heat with natural gas. He says New Brunswick has some big decisions to make in the future about its energy landscape, notably the fate of the Mactaquac dam, and nuclear power. He says it’s difficult to predict what role gas will play but it likely will remain stable.

McDonald says it is very unlikely New Brunswick’s large, proven on-land natural gas reserves will be tapped any time soon to fulfill the local market needs, and so importing it remains the alternative.

However, he says huge natural gas reserves in Newfoundland and Labrador, where gas was injected back into the ground during offshore oil extraction, hold great potential. He says the technology is still in the early stages, but there may be an opportunity to extract that gas and get it to market.