What is Natural Gas?

Natural gas has been part of Canada's energy mix since 1859.

Natural gas occurs naturally and is made of mostly methane, but it may also contain small amounts of other gases such as ethane, propane, butane and pentanes. Natural gas may also contain sulphur compounds, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, water and other substances. Context delves into some of the technologies that have been implemented by industry to reduce emissions. 

Canada’s Natural Gas History  

Natural gas has been a part of Canada’s energy mix for almost 160 years. Natural gas was discovered in:  

  • New Brunswick in 1859  
  • Ontario in 1866  
  • Alberta in 1883  
  • Offshore Nova Scotia in 1967 


Natural gas was formed millions of years ago when heat and pressure transformed decaying plant and animal matter buried in sedimentary rock layers. Much of the gas produced today is trapped under a thick layer of rock that prevents it from flowing easily to the surface.   

Schematic geology of natural gas resources

Body Natural Gas Potential The Resource Geology Schematic

Source: IEA


Sources of natural gas  

Natural gas resources are known as either conventional or unconventional. The difference between them is the manner, ease and costs associated with development.  Conventional natural gas means gas that is trapped in multiple, small, porous rock such as sandstone. This natural gas is easy to produce using traditional drilling methods. However, most of these conventional reserves in Canada have been fully developed. The recovery of natural gas from unconventional reserves in tight rock formations, such as shale and carbonate, through a combination of horizontal drilling and multi-stage hydraulic fracturing has greatly increased Canada’s recoverable natural gas reserves. One benefit to this type of resource is the ability to drill multiple wells on the same well pad allowing for greater resource recovery on a reduced land footprint. Produced natural gas is natural gas that has already been recovered.  

Did you know?  

In 2018, Ontario had 1,177 active natural gas wells that produced 4.7 bcf. In 2015, Canada exported almost 50 per cent of its marketable natural gas.    

Ontario Natural Gas Imports

In 2017, about 70 per cent of total natural gas consumption in Ontario was imported from foreign sources. (Source: Statistics Canada, 2018)

Where is natural gas found in Canada?  

Natural gas production in Canada is mainly from the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin (WCSB) in British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. Unconventional gas is primarily located in northeast British Columbia and northwest Alberta. Natural gas is also produced from offshore Nova Scotia and smaller amounts are produced in Ontario and New Brunswick.  

Body Natural Gas Potential The Resource Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin Map

Source: NEB, Canada's Energy Future 2015

Atlantic Canada is currently the only region producing natural gas offshore. Two natural gas offshore exploration programs are active and in production off the coast of Nova Scotia:   

  • The Sable Offshore Energy Project began producing natural gas in 1999. The project is located on the Scotian Shelf, approximately 200 kilometres off the coast of Nova Scotia. 
  • Deep Panuke started producing natural gas from the Deep Panuke field in 2013. The project is located approximately 250 kilometres southeast of Halifax on the Scotian Shelf.



Canadian natural gas developed responsibly

The world needs more energy and a cleaner environment too. As demand for energy increases, we must look for innovative ways to safely and responsibly develop our resources.