Energy Secretary John Herrington contends a report from his department saying the nation has a 35-year supply of natural gas should bolster public confidence in the domestic reserve as a reliable energy source.

"The lack of consumer confidence in gas supplies is a primary obstacle impeding a larger role for natural gas," Herrington said at a news conference in which he released the government study Thursday."Natural gas has not taken its place in the nation's energy mix. We undertook this study to clarify the potential for natural gas," Herrington said.

The report, which drew upon estimates by government, industry and academic experts, claimed the national gas reserves could reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil by 1 million barrels a day.

Herrington attributed doubts about domestic supplies to the energy crisis of the 1970s, when restrictions were placed on the use of natural gas as part of the drive toward conservation, creating some wintertime shortfalls in supply.

"Memories of the winter of 1976-77 still linger," Herrington said, "and unfortunately those shortages created the lasting misimpression that natural gas is an unreliable energy source."

George Lawrence, president of the American Gas Association, embraced the department's report as "good news for the nation."

"(The) definitive and positive assessment of the amount of gas available from lower-48-state sources should allay any concerns about supply availability and price to future users," Lawrence said.