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Gas reserves are adequate, industry says

Advancing technology in extracting natural gas should boost the nation's reserves of the resource to hundreds or even thousands of years, a leading gas industry official said Tuesday.

Michael Baly III, president of the American Gas Association, was in town to address a conference of representatives from public utilities around the country.

The focus of the two-day conference, sponsored by another group, the American Public Gas Association, is on purchasing natural gas. The conference concludes today.

Baly's speech was intended to ease some fears among local utilities that developing a dependence on natural gas would be unwise, if the resource's potential is limited to only a few decades.

"Is the U.S. resource base adequate to support a growing role for natural gas? The answer is a strong yes," Baly said.

Among the technology Baly cited are drill bits that waste less fuel and new methods for extracting natural gas from coalbeds. Formerly a nuisance to miners, coalbed methane is increasingly considered a valuable energy source.

Because domestic reserves are adequate, Baly said, using natural gas instead of imported oil is good for the balance of trade.

In an interview, Baly said his group's plan calls for more natural gas being used to power electricity-generating plants, fuel a new generation of vehicles and operate heating and air conditioning units.

Baly said natural gas will help Florida meet growth needs and concerns about clean air. Electric utilities have committed to expanding the use of gas in Florida, while two pipeline contractors plan to increase availability.

Baly said his group's vision calls for service stations that offer natural gas alongside gasoline, diesel fuel and possibly, electric battery recharge outlets.

Florida is too dependent on electricity for heating homes in the winter, Baly said, leading to brownouts and shortages. Equipment that runs on natural gas and cools as well as heats homes will be available soon, he said.