If you’ve switched on a light, turned on your stove, or cranked up that heat, you’ve probably had more than your share of experience using natural gas. In the USA alone, it is used for heating and cooking in about 50% of households, and generates roughly 33% of our electricity.
As with any needed resource that permeates our society on this level, natural gas is available and abundant in large quantities that help keep the prices affordable for the average household.
Throwing out the word “natural gas” so frequently often makes us think we know what it is and where it comes from, but if we asked you “what is natural gas”, we’re willing to bet you’d probably say “gas that is natural”. Anything that we view as a needed resource is always going to be up for discussions about how much it costs, are utility companies, or even private companies like Vista Energy scamming the public, are there better resources out there that suppliers don’t want the public to know about, etc. Well to answer any of these questions, you have to start with the basics. What are these so-called resources? Where do they come from? Are these sources safe for the ecosystem and the future of our children?
Let’s find out!
What is Natural Gas?
While “a gas that is natural” is not exactly incorrect, the scientific explanation for natural gas is a flammable hydrocarbon-based gas called methane. Besides methane, it also contains traces of other hydrocarbons, along with nitrogen, carbon dioxide, helium, and hydrogen sulfide. It is also a fossil fuel since it’s formed by heating and pressurizing decomposed layers of plants and animal matter over the span of millions of years.
Why You Should Care
Natural gas is thought to be the cleanest and most useful forms of energy we have at our fingertips. It is considered “clean burning”, since it produces a lot less unpleasant byproducts than petroleum or coal. When it’s burned, it produces carbon dioxide at half the rate of other fossil fuels.
Today, it is used for a wide variety of purposes from running vehicles to the generation of electricity. In our domestic environments, it can be found in stoves, ovens, dryers, water heaters, air conditioners and other appliances. Industrially it is used in copious amounts for manufacturing plastic and other organic chemicals.
Where Does Natural Gas Come From
- Byproduct of Oil
During the 1800s and early 1900s, natural gas used to be obtained as a byproduct of producing oil. At the time, oil miners didn’t quite know what a gold mine they had stumbled upon, viewing it instead as something that needed disposed of. With no market for the gas at the time, they would simply burn it off on-site.
Once the value of the gas came to light, deliberate extraction process began. It has become so valuable that states that cannot adopt the careful, regulated extraction measures can experience substantial set-backs for the American economy.
For example, in 2014 some oil drillers of North Dakota failed to capture and sell the natural gas that came up between two oil pumps, costing the US millions in revenue.
- Shale Gas
Shale gas is a comparatively new source of natural gas. Shale is a unique, soft sedimentary rock, primarily comprised of consolidated mud, and is a pretty common substance across the US. It also happens to be a rich source of petroleum and natural gas.
Extracting shale gas is different from other extraction progresses because it remains stuck in the rock it originated from. Shale gas cannot be obtained through the usual vertical wells to produce an economic-range flow due to its low permeability. So in its early days, it depended on pores and cracks to get through the confined space.
In the 21st century, when it was finally established as one of the major and fastest-growing sources of natural gas in USA and Canada, hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies came onto the scene to efficiently extract it.
- Tight Gas Sandstone
Another form of natural gas with low permeability, but a much higher porosity than shale, is the tight gas developed from reservoir rocks. The intensity of hydraulic fracturing needs to be on a much higher level to extract this particular gas, and to ensure the resources required to extract it are economically viable.
These gases are found mostly in sandstones, but limestones and other carbonates also pose as potential holders. This unconventional source of natural gas is exploited mostly in Germany, Netherlands, Canada and the state of Colorado in the USA.
- Town Gas
This flammable gas is mainly developed by burning bituminous coal. Though coal was used as its main source from the 19th century, due to high demands for natural gases nowadays, heavy oil and naphtha are also treated as the raw materials. It was used as a regular component of cooking and lighting, and the coal accumulated at the bottom was used for roofing and other purposes.
Town gas is a safer option than its contemporaries because if it does leak out, it just rises and dissolves itself without causing harm to anyone in the surrounding area. Moreover, it’s mixed with a unique aroma that instantly informs consumers of leakage so that they can take immediate action to fix it.
- Coal beds
Coal-bed methane or CBM, is a natural gas extracted from coal beds as its name suggests. These gases stay trapped in coal deposits where methane remains mixed in the solid matrix of coal through the process of adsorption.
This source poses a bigger security risk for the miners because the highly flammable methane is released from time to time while mining. Presently, that safety hazard is nullified with carbon sequestration, where carbon dioxide is inserted into the coal seams, displacing the trapped methane.
Unlike other gases, this one carries a much lighter ratio of hydrocarbons. It is also known as the “sweet gas” due to a shortage of hydrogen sulfide.
One of the downsides is that this gas is produced at a lower rate than conventional reservoirs. Despite that, it is turning into an important resource in the United States, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, Kazakhstan, and India.
Biogas has always been a popular way to obtain natural gas due to its cheap and simple production. It contains a mixture of several gases, but primarily methane like in all natural gases. It is a great way to convert the visible wastage into a valuable resource.
Agricultural waste, sewage, food waste, municipal waste and other garbage are broken down and transformed into the necessary gas through a number of chemical reactions.
It is a renewable energy source since its production and stages of usage go on in a continuous cycle. Besides, it does not produce carbon dioxide as a byproduct of the overall process. For daily uses, it is helpful for running vehicles and cooking.
- Crystallized hydrates
A great number of methane molecules are caged in lattices of water molecules and they make up crystalline methane hydrates found below the sediment ocean floors and in Arctic areas. Even if they look frozen and cold, if you try to light them, they will burn.
It exists in large amounts on the planet, but since it is immensely difficult to extract, fails to reach its potential in the market. It also poses a considerable environmental threat. If The rising temperature of global warming can cause these gases to break down, causing the release of a greenhouse gas that further exacerbates the problem.
Making The Right Choice
Understanding what natural gas is, where it comes from, and how it’s extracted is just the first step to understanding its impact on your life. Natural gas suppliers like our team at Vista Energy work with companies like PG&E, the Better Business Bureau, and industry experts to bring you the best quality service for your needed resources. If you have any questions about natural gas, or about our services, contact us any time. If you have a complaint, visit VistaEnergyComplaints.com and we’d be happy to help you with your concern.