Canada's natural gas industry will rival the oilsands and generate more than a quarter of a million jobs a year for the next two decades, says one of Canada's most influential business think-tanks.

The Conference Board of Canada published an analysis Monday that expects Canada's natural gas industry to add more than $1 trillion to Canada's economy over the next 24 years and support an average of 260,000 jobs a year over that time frame.

The ambitious projection factors in all the direct investment, but also ancillary spinoffs down the supply chain and figures all regions of the country stand to benefit, even those provinces without any large natural gas holdings.

Demand set to rise

The industry already produces $24.5 billion a year and employs 130,000 people. That's already good enough to make up 42 per cent of the country's energy exports, but demand is expected to double between now and 2035.

The board estimates the industry is going to invest $386 billion to keep up with demand over that time frame. If that projection holds true, that's more than the $364 billion worth of investment that the board says the oilsands are going to attract over the same period.

"In all, Canada's natural gas industry is expected to add a cumulative $940 billion to Canada's economy over the next 24 years, and generate roughly 6.2 million person-years of employment.," the board said in its report. "In other words, the industry is expected to support employment of nearly 260,000 jobs per year over the 24-year forecast horizon."

Much of that is likely to come from the two provinces with extensive gas holdings — B.C. and Alberta, the report says. But there will be spinoff benefits across the country, and governments at all levels will reap tax revenues on top of the GDP bump.

After undergoing a boom earlier this decade, natural gas prices have been flatlining for several years after new technologies have made vast shale gas holdings suddenly economical. That's created a supply glut that's holding down prices.

Natural gas was going for $3.36 per million British thermal units in New York on Monday, well off the highs of around $12 seen before the recession of 2008.

Although only seven per cent of the direct investments will occur in Ontario, the province is forecast to receive 18 per cent of the resulting employment and 16 per cent of the wage increases.

"The entire country benefits, even though the benefits are focused the most where natural gas is produced," the report reads.

Over the 24-year horizon, natural gas investments will help generate 560,000 person-years of employment in Ontario, and 199,000 person-years of employment in Quebec. Saskatchewan is expected to support 92,400 person-years of employment and Manitoba 39,200 person-years. The smallest employment effects are forecast for Atlantic Canada.

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