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Canada has enough natural gas to maintain its current output for a full century, according to new data compiled by the Canadian Society for Unconventional Gas.

In a country that consumes 2.6 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas a year, 4,000 tcf of the fuel are buried beneath Canada's foothills, plains and lowlands, the society found after conducting a broad, coast-to-coast survey.

Of that, between 700 and 1,300 tcf can be brought to surface and sold, the society estimates.

"The magnitude of these numbers may blow you away," said society president Mike Dawson, as he presented the figures to an industry audience Wednesday. "We have an awful lot of natural gas potential lying within the country."

That is both a blessing and curse to an industry that requires long-term reserves to preserve its bottom line, but is struggling with gas prices that have been hammered by a supply gut.

Canada currently produces far more natural gas than it uses - about five to six tcf a year - and exports the remainder to the U.S. Even accounting for those exports, the society's estimates show the country is home to enough gas to continue pumping at today's rates for over 100 years.

A relatively small part of that total will, however, come from the shale-gas resources that have drawn a tremendous amount of interest and investment, both in Canada and the United States.

The society estimates that 128 to 343 tcf of marketable gas will come from shale reservoirs. That's less than the total from remaining conventional fields, which are estimated to contain 357 tcf.

That is in part a function of the nascent state of Canada's shale-gas development: Industry simply has not conducted enough field work to determine how much gas is contained in shale reservoirs in Alberta, Quebec, the Maritimes and the North, nor in far more speculative deposits in the Arctic.

Still, the abundance story only serves to bolster industry arguments that the continent needs to shift toward using natural gas to displace dirtier energy sources like coal and crude.

Natural gas companies have launched a massive, continent-wide campaign to promote natural gas, including an effort led by Encana Corp. to build a natural gas-powered transportation corridor for heavy trucks in Ontario.

Wednesday, Mr. Dawson shed some light on the reasoning behind that effort. If industry can persuade even 5 per cent of the Canadian heavy vehicle fleet to switch to natural gas, it will boost demand by 53 billion cubic feet a year - a 1.5 per cent hike in demand.

Industry is also working to persuade electricity makers to switch from coal to gas (which produces half the emissions for the same output) and efforts to promote natural gas have led to a broad-based mass media advertising campaign in the U.S.

The reason, Mr. Dawson said, is clear. A recent U.S. study also found sufficient gas in that country to feed its huge demand for a century - enough that industry needs to find new demand if it wants to spur better prices for its product.

"The North American market has an awful lot of gas, and there's going to be continued pressure on natural gas pricing, barring any kind of significant growth in [demand]" Mr. Dawson said.