What is natural gas?
Natural gas is a naturally occurring hydrocarbon composed primarily of methane, though it may also contain varying amounts of natural gas liquids (ethane, propane, butane, and pentane) and non-energy components.
- Globally, Canada is the fourth largest producer and fifth largest exporter of natural gas
- Canadian marketable resources of natural gas can sustain current production levels for up to 300 years
- Canadian and U.S. natural gas markets are highly integrated, with 20% of Canadian consumption coming from the U.S.
Learn more about natural gas in Canada
Natural gas industry
The upstream gas industry is made up of several hundred companies that engage in activities such as exploration, drilling, and production of raw natural gas. Some upstream companies also own and operate gathering pipelines and field processing facilities.
The midstream natural gas industry operates natural gas processing plants, which remove impurities and natural gas liquids (NGL), natural gas storage facilities, gathering pipelines, and NGL facilities.
The downstream natural gas industry is made up of long haul transmission pipelines and distribution companies, also called local distribution companies (LDCs). LDCs receive gas from pipelines and then distribute it to consumers via extensive networks of local distribution pipelines.
Conventional gas is produced from reservoirs using traditional drilling, pumping and compression techniques, whereas tight gas is found deeper below the surface in gas-rich shale rock formations and is typically produced using horizontal or directional drilling.
Find out how Canada’s natural gas ranks on an international scale:
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World proved reserves
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World shale oil resources
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Proved reserves are when natural gas is known to exist and is recoverable under current technological and economic conditions. At the end of 2017, Canada and the U.S had a total of 507 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of proved reserves of natural gas (Canada: 69 Tcf, U.S.: 438 Tcf).
Marketable and technically recoverable resources
Canadian marketable resources refers to natural gas that is in a marketable condition, after the removal of impurities and after accounting for any volumes used to fuel surface facilities. Marketable resources are recoverable using existing technologies, based on geological information, but much of the drilling necessary to produce the natural gas has not yet been performed.
Canada’s natural gas reserves are estimated to be 1,220 trillion cubic feet, of which 358 trillion cubic feet is conventional gas, and the rest is unconventional including coal-bed methane, shale and tight gas. For comparison, the world’s reserves are estimated at 28,216 trillion cubic feet, with 15,150 trillion cubic feet being conventional.
U.S. technically recoverable resources refers to natural gas that is estimated to be recoverable as drilling and infrastructure expands (similar to Canadian marketable resources).
The United States reserves are estimated at 2,459 trillion cubic feet. 1,480 trillion cubic feet of which is tight and shale gas.
Canada’s natural gas market is heavily integrated with those of the U.S. largely due to the location of supply basins, demand centres, and the availability of transportation infrastructure, as well as existing Canada – U.S. trade agreements. These factors allow for 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 (Bcf/d) or 2.8 billion cubic metres per day (Bcm/d).
- Canadian average marketable production: 16.7 Bcf/d (0.5 Bcm/d)
- Conventional: 29%
- Unconventional*: 71%
- U.S. average marketable production: 83.4 Bcf/d (2.4 Bcm/d)
- Conventional: 20%
- unconventional*: 80%
- LNG imports of North American countries:
- Canada: 0.06 Bcf/d
- U.S.: 0.21 Bcf/d
- Mexico: 0.66 Bcf/d
- LNG exports of North American countries:
- U.S.: 2.97 Bcf/d
* Unconventional gas includes tight gas, coalbed methane and shale gas
Natural gas wells
While Canadian natural gas production remained relatively flat and the number of wells drilled declined, the well productivity has increased over time. This reflects the increased use of horizontal drilling and increased well length.
The number of annual completed natural gas wells in Western Canada dropped from over 12,326 in 2008 to 5,060 in 2009. From 2012 to 2018, completed gas well have been between 969 and 2,119 per year. The average amount of metres drilled has increased significantly from 1,318 in 2009 to 5,306 in 2018.
Canada’s production of natural gas has been relatively stable from 2005 to 2018, whereas U.S. production has steadily increased. In 2018, Canadian production was 16.7 billion cubic feet per day while U.S. production was 80.7 billion cubic feet per day.
Marketable production by province
In 2018, Alberta produced 69% of the marketable natural gas in Canada. 98% of all natural gas produced in Canada is from the western-most provinces while over 70% of population lives east of Manitoba.
The total production of marketable natural gas in Canada in 2018 was 16.7 billions cubic feet per day. Alberta has the highest share of production at 69%, followed by British Columbia at 29%, Saskatchewan at 2%, and Nova Scotia at 1%.
Exports of natural gas have been slowly decreasing since 2007, but 2017 saw a slight uptake to 8.2 billion cubic feet per day and 2018 a slight decrease again to 7.7. Imports rose from 2003 to 2012, peaking at 3.0 billion cubic feet per day in 2011 and 2012, but have since decreased to 1.9 billion cubic feet in 2014. Since then, imports are increasing slowly, now at 2.2 billion cubic feet in 2018.
While the share of exports is declining, more Canadian gas was exported than consumed domestically. In 2018, Canada exported 7.8 Bcf/d (0.22 Bcm/d) of natural gas.
Canadian natural gas exports to the Western U.S. and U.S. Midwest remain important.
- 46% of Canadian production is exported
- All Canadian exports go to the U.S.
- The value of Canadian net exports (exports minus imports) was $6.1 billion in 2018.
In 2017, Canada imported 2.2 Bcf/d (0.06 Bcm/d) of natural gas.
Natural gas imports from the U.S. into eastern Canada are on the rise, due to higher supplies in the U.S. Northeast and shorter transportation distances from these U.S. natural gas basins.
- 97% of U.S. imports and 9% of U.S. consumption come from Canada
- 98% of Canada’s imports and 17% of Canadian consumption comes from the U.S.
- Since 2009, Canada has also imported small amounts of liquefied natural gas from other countries through the Canaport LNG terminal in Saint John, N.B.
The AECO hub is Canada’s largest natural gas trading hub and the AECO price serves as a benchmark for Alberta wholesale natural gas transactions.
|Average 2007 – 2016||$4.18/MMbtu|
Monthly average natural gas spot prices for select hubs (Henry, Dawn, AECO-C) from 2007 to 2018 in Canadian dollars per million British thermal units.
Shale and tight gas
Shale is ultra-low permeability sedimentary rock containing natural gas. The gas is extracted by using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
Hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) creates fractures in sedimentary rock formations by using pressurized water, mixed with small amounts of sand and additives, to release the natural gas.
Potential in Canada
Shale gas resources are found in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the territories.
Technological advancements in drilling (long-reach horizontal well bores) and completion techniques (multistage hydraulic fracturing) have enabled the commercial production of shale gas. These advancements have increased the long-term prospects for the supply of natural gas in North America.
Learn more about the exploration and production of shale and tight resources in Canada.
Natural gas is mainly transported within extensive networks of pipelines from natural gas wells to processing plants to Canadian customers and distribution companies. There are a variety of key existing pipelines that transport natural gas across the country.
Map showing some of the major natural gas pipelines across Canada. Source: National Energy Board.
Enbridge is a North American leader in gathering, transportation, processing, and storage of natural gas. Some of the pipelines that are a part of this network include:
- Maritimes & Northeast Pipeline: Nova Scotia and New Brunswick to the U.S.
- Union Gas: gas distribution and transmission in Ontario and eastern U.S.
- West Coast Energy: a pipeline in British Columbia
- Enbridge Gas Distribution: largest local gas distribution company in Canada
- Alliance Line (50% owner): British Columbia through Alberta; and Saskatchewan to Chicago
- Vector Line (60% owner): Chicago to Ontario
TransCanada is a leading natural gas pipeline company serving markets in Canada, the U.S., and Mexico, tapping into virtually all natural gas basins in North America. Some of TransCanada’s key pipelines include:
- Nova Gas Transmission Ltd (NGTL) System: serving Alberta and British Columbia
- Canadian Mainline: several pipelines in the same corridor from the Alberta/Saskatchewan border to Quebec (city) with several interconnections to the U.S. along the way
- Foothills: from Alberta to Idaho via British Columbia and from Alberta to Montana via Saskatchewan
- Gathering and distribution lines within Alberta
- Gathering, transmission and storage facilities in Saskatchewan
- Owned by SaskEnergy Inc. (provincial distributer)
Natural gas energy use
The total natural gas energy use in Canada in 2016 was 2,518 petajoules (PJ). Natural gas has many different applications from heating to generating electricity to acting as an alternative fuel. It is used extensively in the residential, commercial, industrial, transportation and agricultural sectors.
|Sector||Energy use (petajoule)||Energy use (bcf/d)||% of total|
Natural gas is primarily used by provinces for electricity generation and heating of space and water in buildings. Provinces with access to large amounts of hydro power electricity like Quebec tend to use less natural gas than others.
In 2016, natural gas energy use was 2,518.1 petajoules. Alberta consumed the most natural gas at 40%, followed by Ontario at 32%, Quebec at 10%, British Columbia and Territories at 5%, Saskatchewan at 6%, Manitoba at 3%, and the Atlantic provinces at 1%
- World production and exports: International Energy Agency (Natural Gas Information)
- World proved reserves: Oil and Gas Journal
- World resources and technically recoverable resources: IEA (World Energy Outlook 2017, 2014 and 2013) tables 5.3(Remaining technically recoverable natural gas resources by type and region), 8.2(Remaining technically recoverable natural gas esources by type) and 3.3(Remaining technically recoverable natural gas resources by type and region) and Oil and Gas Journal (Worldwide Look at Reserves and Production)
- Canada reserves: Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers Statistical Handbook table 2-13b (Marketable Natural Gas Remaining Established Reserves in Canada at Year End)
- United States reserves: United States Energy Information Administration (Natural Gas Reserves Summary, dry gas)
- Canada resources and technically recoverable resources: National Energy Board (Short-term Canadian natural gas deliverability 2014 - 2016 and Canada’s Energy Future 2017: Energy Supply and Demand Projections to 2040)
- United States resources and technically recoverable resources: United States Energy Information Administration (Technically Recoverable Shale Oil and Shale Gas Resources, June 2013; US total)
- Shale gas and Tight Gas: United States EIA (World Shale Resource Assessments, Technically Recoverable Shale Gas Resources) table 6 (Technically Recoverable Shale Gas Resources) and NEB (Canada’s Energy Future 2017: Energy Supply and Demand Projections to 2040)
- Canada-United States market: Compiled by NRCan from Statistics Canada, United States Energy Information Administration (US Natural Gas Imports by Country), NEB (Natural Gas Imports, Exports and Liquefied Natural Gas Statistics, Commodity Statistics for LNG imports, LNG Shipment Details)
- Canadian and provincial production: Statistics Canada tables 25-10-0047-01 and 25-10-0055-01, National Energy Board (Short term Canadian Natural Gas Deliverability 2014 - 2016)
- United States production: United States Energy Information Administration (Annual energy Outlook) tables (Natural Gas Gross Withdrawals and Production, Natural Gas by Country Imports, Exports & LNG Statistics)
- North American LNG imports: International Gas Union (IGU World Gas LNG Report, 2018 edition) table 3.2 (LNG Trade Volumes Between Countries)
- Wells completed and metres drilled in Canada: Daily Oil Bulletin (Wells Completions – Annual Breakdown by Province and Wells Counts and Metres Drilled – Western Canada), Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers Statistical Handbook table 1.2 (Drilling activity)
- Trade: National Energy Board (Natural Gas Imports, Exports and Liquefied Natural Gas Statistics, Commodity Statistics for Pipeline Trade, Gas Monthly Summary for the Year), United States Energy Information Administration (Natural Gas Consumption by End Use), Statistics Canada International Merchandise Trade Database and calculations by NRCan
- Prices: Sproule Price Forecast
- Pipelines: compiled by NRCan
- Natural gas energy use: Office of Energy Efficiency
- Consumption: Statistics Canada table 25-10-0030-01, International Energy Agency Annual Mini-Questionnaire