Natural gas and coal bed methane

Natural gas

Natural gas is one of the cleanest, safest, and most useful forms of energy in our daily lives. Natural gas can be found by itself or in association with oil. It is colourless and odourless and contains a mixture of methane and other hydrocarbons including butane, ethane and propane.

Natural gas is found in reservoirs beneath the surface of the earth. Large layers of rock trap the natural gas as it floats to the surface. Although the areas where the gas is trapped are referred to as pools, the natural gas molecules are actually held in small holes and cracks throughout the rock formation.

Alberta's natural gas reserves

Alberta has a world-class natural resource base, with an estimated 33 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of remaining established conventional natural gas reserves. Alberta accounts for almost 80% of the natural gas produced in Canada, making Alberta one the world's largest suppliers of natural gas. In 2012, Alberta produced 3.4 trillion cubic feet of marketable conventional natural gas, and 319 billion cubic feet of coal bed methane and some shale gas.

Alberta has a streamlined regulatory process, a highly skilled workforce, and an effective natural gas processing, transporting and marketing infrastructure in place.

Coal Bed Methane and Shale Gas

Coal Bed Methane (CBM) is natural gas contained in coal. The Alberta Geological Survey estimates there may be up to 500 Tcf of natural gas in Alberta's coals. However, it is not yet confirmed what portion of this resource may be recoverable. The characteristics of CBM include:

  • The natural gas found in coal is "sweet" not "sour", meaning it does not contain hydrogen sulphide.
  • It is generally near-pipeline quality when produced and requires minimal processing. 
  • It is typically produced at lower pressures than conventional natural gas.

CBM is called an unconventional gas because the coal acts as both the source of the gas and the storage reservoir. Most of the CBM is attached to or "adsorbed" on the coal surfaces and it may also be trapped in the coal fractures, which tend to have low permeability.

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER, formerly ERCB) estimates the remaining established reserves of CBM to be approximately 2.0 trillion cubic feet in areas of Alberta where commercial production is occurring.

Shale gas exploration and development in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin has undoubtedly been accelerated by the continued success of several prolific U.S. shale basins. The potential for Alberta shale gas production is still being evaluated. According to the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER, formerly ERCB), shale gas exploration and production is in its infancy so currently there is limited data to estimate the shale gas resource potential in the province.

Knowledge obtained from American projects indicates that shale gas has the potential to add substantially to Alberta’s resource and reserve base. The AER is currently evaluating the shale gas resource potential of all prospective shale gas formations in Alberta.

For more information on Natural Gas, Coal Bed Methane or Shale Gas see:

  • Alberta Department of Energy : Alberta Energy is the provincial government department that oversees energy resource development and use in Alberta. The Alberta Energy website has detailed information on Alberta's diverse natural energy resources.
  • Alberta Geological Survey (AGS) : The Alberta Geological Survey (AGS) researches and delivers geological knowledge about Alberta land and natural resources through various programs. The AGS Resource Geology program is focused on advising Government of Alberta agencies about natural resources.
  • Canadian Society for Unconventional Resources (CSUR): CSUR was formed to foster information sharing about unconventional gas among industry, government, regulators and public stakeholders. The CSUR website contains information on many different types of unconventional gas resources found in Canada, including coal bed methane.
  • Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP): CAPP is an industry association focused on fostering sustainable and responsible economic growth in the Canadian upstream petroleum industry, and has background information on natural gas and coal bed methane development in Alberta.
  • Alberta Energy Regulator (AER, formerly ERCB): The AER is an independent, quasi-judicial agency of the Government of Alberta. The Board regulates the safe, responsible, and efficient development of Alberta's energy resources: oil, natural gas, oil sands, coal, and pipelines.

For more information on Alberta’s energy resources, see: