Atlantic Canada is lagging when it comes to exploring and extracting its natural gas resources, and that's costing the region in the long run, says a new report released Thursday.

"We know for certainty that natural gas is going to continue to grow, and be an important part of the energy mix, and that has obvious benefits for Atlantic Canada," said John Williamson, vice-president of research at the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, the non-partisan think tank responsible for the report.

Williamson contends natural gas would benefit the region not only through the extracting process, but also by creating the infrastructure to deliver it, and consumers would benefit from a cheaper home heating source.

Lost royalties

Williamson said the region is losing out on royalties and business investments that come with extracting natural gas.

"When policy makers or governments decide they're not going to take advantage of gas resources, well that has an impact," Williamson told CBC Radio's On The Go.

Halifax-protest

An anti-fracking protest in Halifax in 2013. (CBC)

With a ban on hydraulic fracturing, a controversial form of natural gas extraction, in place in Nova Scotia, a moratorium on it in New Brunswick, and a reluctance from Newfoundland and Labrador and PEI to take part, Williamson said the region is blinkered to the larger benefits of the resource.

"We hear so much about extraction, but the debate is much larger than that, and so is the opportunity."

Williamson added there are far more ways to extract natural gas than simply through hydraulic fracturing.

A transition fuel

Williamson said natural gas can play an important role as green energy technologies develop.

"If people are concerned about CO2 reductions, and I think increasingly people are, then natural gas is what we call, at the very least, a bridge source of fuel to get us where we want to go," he said.

Anticosti Island oil natural gas exploitation

Oil and natural gas exploitation in Quebec. (Radio-Canada)

"I don't want to call it a clean energy source, but it is certainly much more clean than coal and oil."

​But Williamson said Atlantic Canada will never be able to use natural gas as a transition fuel if it doesn't undertake a bigger effort to develop it locally.

"It's about planning for the future, knowing where these resources are," said Williamson, adding new technologies will make natural gas extraction and infrastructure cleaner than ever before.