Natural gas is one of cleanest fuels present on the Earth. It is an efficient source of energy, as it produces a high amount of heat when burnt. It meets almost 30% of the energy needs of the US, and dependence on this efficient source of energy is on the increase.
Natural gas is a mixture of a number of hydrocarbon gases that can be burnt to release high amounts of energy. Though primarily consisting of methane, it comprises other gases like ethane, butane, propane, and pentane in small amounts.
It is more environment friendly than other fossil fuels. Besides carbon dioxide and water vapor, it does not release any other harmful substance into the atmosphere.
Like all other fossil fuels, natural gas is formed from the remains of plants and animals. When these organisms die, they get buried underground. With time, multiple of earth cover the dead organic matter and they are pushed down deeper into the earth.
After having been subjected to years of high temperature and pressure, the dead remains of plants and animals change into fossil fuels. At lower temperatures (in layers of the Earth closer to the surface), oil is formed while at higher temperatures (found deeper down) natural gas is formed.
In fact, the deeper deposits formed far below the Earth's surface usually contain only natural gas, primarily methane. Such methane is known as thermogenic methane. Besides this process, there are also micro-organisms that break down organic matter to produce methane. This methane is called biogenic methane.
Existence of natural gas was known to people of ancient Greece, India, and Persia, in the form of burning springs. These springs were created when fountains of natural gas, seeping out from cracks in the ground, were ignited due to lightning.
As per the data from 2017, Russia has the largest deposits of natural gas (24%). Middle Eastern countries have a total of about 40% of the world's share of reserves, with Iran having almost a 18% share.
It was used for the first time in the US in 1816 to power street lights in Baltimore.
There are over a million miles of natural gas pipelines laid, needed to meet the energy needs of the US alone.
It is the third most widely used fuel in the US, after petroleum and coal. Over 90% of the gas requirements of the US are fulfilled from deposits found in the country itself.
According to the Energy Information Administration, natural gas provides for 24% of the total energy needs of the US. More than 62% homes in the country rely on it to run stoves, water heaters, furnaces, and other home appliances.
Industries are the largest consumers of natural gas. Besides being used to produce energy by industries, it is also used as an ingredient in the manufacturing of fertilizers, paints, ink, and glue.
It can be used in fuel cells to produce electricity, in place of batteries. This may increase the efficiency of electricity generation.
Although natural gas pipelines and storage facilities have high standards of safety, companies add a smelly substance to it, so that the leakage of this colorless and odorless gas can be identified.
The energy content is measured in terms of British Thermal Unit (BTU). One BTU is said to be the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree fahrenheit. In the US, however, retail sales are done in units of Therms. 1 Therm = 1028 BTU.
States which produce large amounts of natural gas are Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alaska, and Wyoming.
Despite its various uses, one of its major disadvantages is that it is highly combustible, due to which explosions are very likely.
The gas requires sophisticated treatment plants and underground pipelines to be delivered to the site where it will be used. These installations are expensive and require high maintenance.
Despite its disadvantages, natural gas scores over other fossil fuels as it is a clean fuel that produces a greater amount of energy than electricity at a comparatively lower cost. Huge deposits, still untapped, are believed to be existing underground. If these can be accessed and used, it would meet a large part of energy requirements over the world.