Natural gas is an essential part of the mix when it comes to meeting the growing global demand for energy. It’s abundant, affordable and versatile. Natural gas also produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and leaves a substantially lower carbon footprint compared with other fossil fuels, such as coal.
Technological advancements have made it economically feasible to tap large supplies of natural gas found in tight rock and shale as well as coalbed methane. In addition, well-established pipeline networks deliver natural gas safely to Canadian homes and businesses.
Canada has a plentiful supply of natural gas. Globally, Canada is the fourth-largest producer of natural gas, with an estimated 1,230 trillion cubic feet of proved reserves. Canada is also the fifth largest exporter of natural gas, with 1% of the world’s proved reserves. Proved reserves indicate where natural gas is known to exist and is recoverable under current technological and economic conditions.
The Canada natural gas market is heavily integrated with the United States largely due to the location of supply basins, demand centers and the availability of transportation infrastructure, as well as existing trade agreements. This allows consumers and distributors on either side of the border to freely access natural gas from the lowest-cost supplier. In 2018, Canada-U.S. production in the natural gas industry reached 100.1 billion cubic feet per day, according to Natural Resources Canada.
Natural gas has been part of Canada’s energy blend since 1859 when it was first discovered in New Brunswick. Natural gas resources are located in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Northwest Territories and Yukon. The bulk of natural gas production is in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) in British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. Atlantic Canada is currently the only region in the country producing natural gas offshore, off the coast of Nova Scotia.
Natural gas is extracted using a variety of methods, depending on the geology of the region. For example, vertical drilling involves drilling directly into porous geological formations that contain natural gas. Much of the natural gas in Western Canada is trapped in less porous rock, referred to as tight rock or shale. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is required to produce natural gas from such formations. Fracking pumps fluid — a mixture of sand, water, and some additives — into the well at high pressure, causing the reservoir rock to crack and releasing the flow of natural gas.
Natural gas is used extensively in residential, commercial, industrial and power generation applications. For residential and commercial users, it’s a key source of space heating, water heating, clothes drying, and cooking. The industrial sector uses natural gas as a source of process heat, as a fuel for the generation of steam and as a feedstock in the production of petrochemicals and fertilizers. The power generation sector uses natural gas to produce electricity.
Although it sometimes plays second fiddle to its fossil fuel cousins, notably oil, natural gas has maintained its popularity and its daily use continues to increase. Natural gas meets 30% of the country’s energy needs and Canada has enough natural gas reserves to satisfy current demand for 300 years.