The company that owns the Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline has announced plans to expand its capacity to ship inexpensive U.S. shale gas into Maine and the Maritimes.

Houston-based Spectra Energy is responding to a call from New England governors for access to a reliable supply of lower cost energy to generate electricity.

Spectra Energy

Spectra Energy, which owns the Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline, plans to expand its capacity and reverse pipelines to ship U.S. shale gas north to Boston, Maine and the Maritimes, instead of south from Nova Scotia. (Courtesy of Spectra Energy)

But Spectra Energy says it may also bring lower natural gas prices to Atlantic Canada.

The Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline was built to carry Nova Scotia gas west and south into New England.

Those supplies are running out, however.

In addition, last winter's multiple storms and extended cold stretches led to crippling price spikes throughout the Maritimes and much of the northeastern U.S.

Meanwhile, there are abundant supplies to cheap shale gas in the southern United States, in the Marcellus region.

Spectra's pipelines are not currently set up to ship gas into the Boston area and north to Maine.

But the company plans to reverse pipelines and increase capacity of the Maritimes and Northeast Pipeline and the Algonquin Gas Transmission pipelines by up to one billion cubic feet per day.

"Our pipelines are in the right place at the right time to supply the region’s electric plants with affordable, clean, domestic natural gas,” Bill Yardley, Spectra Energy’s president of U. S. transmission and storage said in a statement.

"To enhance the reliability of approximately 60 per cent of these generators, we can expand our mainline and lateral facilities along our existing pipeline footprint while minimizing the effect on communities and the environment," he said.

Colleen Mitchell, president of the Saint John-based Atlantica Centre for Energy, says access to Marcellus shale gas will be good for all gas consumers.

"That would help to address supply bottlenecks which tends to lead to lower prices which is a good thing for Atlantic Canada," she said.

It could also boost chances for construction of an liquefied natural gas export terminal in Saint John, said Mitchell.

"You have to have a stable supply, it has to be long-term, there has to be sufficient amounts for it. So this step would certainly help to make an export LNG terminal feasible," she said.

Spectra's plan remains a proposal at this time. It must first win favour with New England Governers. The target year is 2018.