01/31/2013 07:34 EST | Updated 04/02/2013 05:12 EDT

New Brunswick premier uses annual speech to promote national pipeline

FREDERICTON - The premier of New Brunswick is stepping up his promotion of a proposed national pipeline project to carry western crude oil to the east coast as a key to his province's economic future.

David Alward used his annual state of the province address Thursday evening to repeat his support for the project and to promote the role the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John could play to process the oil and export it to world markets.

TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP) has proposed converting an existing natural gas pipeline to get oil from Alberta as far as Quebec. But it is Alward's hope that the pipeline would be extended to Saint John.

"We now stand on the cusp of a great national opportunity," Alward said in a speech to a business audience in Fredericton and to a television audience across the province.

He said the project could mean thousands of jobs and billions of dollars of investment in New Brunswick and make the province "Canada's next energy power house."

Alward heads to Alberta on Sunday to meet with Premier Alison Redford before touring the oil sands developments and meeting with industry leaders.

The premier also used his speech to say new rules to govern shale gas development will be released in the coming weeks and an energy institute — using the province's universities — will be established to assist in energy development.

Alward also pledged that his government will spend $80 million over the next five years for innovation in the province.

He used the example of a scientist from Shippagan who has developed a way to use herring scales to add sparkle to cosmetics.