Natural Gas – FAQs
Natural gas is one of the more controversial energy sources. On one hand, it’s significantly cleaner to burn than all other fossil fuels, making it much safer for the environment than coal or oil. On the other hand, it is still a fossil fuel, and burning natural gas does create and release greenhouse gasses. In this blog post, we’ll run through common FAQs and answer all your questions regarding natural gas and the role it plays.
What Exactly is Natural Gas?
Natural gas is formed when organic matter becomes trapped under layers of sediment for a very long period of time, often millions of years. As organisms break down within this highly pressurized environment, pockets of gas gather.
Today, wells reach deep beneath the Earth to find these pockets and extract the natural gas, which is made up of methane, CO2, water vapor, and additional hydrocarbons.
How is Natural Gas Extracted?
Once a pocket of gas is discovered, tests are performed to determine the size of the source. If the pocket is sufficiently large to be worth extracting, a drill will dig from the surface to run a pipe to the gas.
Once pulled from the Earth, the gas continues through the pipeline to a processing plant. At the processing plant, the newly extracted gas is refined, to remove other gases, acids, vapor, and impurities. These byproducts are then sold for other processes while the cleaned natural gas either enters the distribution system or is sent to an underground storage tank.
What is Natural Gas Used For?
Most consumers think of natural gas as a means of home heating, hot water, air conditioning, or cooking – but less than 1/5 of all natural gas consumed in the United States is used in the home. The most common use is to fuel gas-fired electric power plants.
- 36% = Generate Electricity
- 33% = Industrial Processes
- 16% = Residential
In addition to enhancing our everyday lives, natural gas is used to produce plastics, chemicals, and fertilizers, and to power vehicles for transportation.
Why is Natural Gas Such an Important Fuel Source?
Natural gas is seen as one of the most important fuel sources in the United States because we have large domestic stores of it and all the infrastructure needed to distribute the fuel across the country is already in place. In fact, some studies predict there is enough natural gas available in the U.S. to power the country at current consumption levels for the next century. And while prices will fluctuate up and down over time, natural gas is typically seen to be a lower-cost energy source over the long haul.
It’s also incredibly efficient, which helps power plants produce more electricity than they would with the same amount of coal and helps homeowners heat their homes faster and more affordably than alternate energy sources.
Natural gas is very resilient, as the underground pipes that carry the fuel cannot be knocked out during a storm.
What are the Pros and Cons of Natural Gas?
The benefits of natural gas are easy to recognize:
- Cleanest-burning fossil fuel
- Global distribution infrastructure already in place
- Advancements in pipeline technology mean very little leakage
- Easy to store
- Easy to transport
- Resilient during bad weather
- A large domestic (and global) supply
- Very efficient when consumed directly
The downsides include:
- Made primarily of methane, which is the largest contributor to greenhouse gasses
- Needs to be burned to use, causing emissions
- Toxic to breathe
- Explosive and flammable
How does Natural Gas Support Renewable Energy Expansion?
Renewable sources such as wind or solar are very promising but also unreliable. Backing up these up-and-coming technologies with natural gas provides the best of both worlds: carbon-free energy from the wind or sun and reliable power when these systems cannot meet demand.
Natural gas makes more wind and solar power generation possible by covering the time periods when production comes up short.
While natural gas isn’t perfect, it is the best all-around fuel source currently available on the planet and positioned to be a major part of our lives for decades to come – and because it is created by the breakdown of organic matter, there exist many sources of renewable natural gas (RNG). Over time, as more RNG is harvested from industrial sites, a higher percentage of the natural gas in the pipeline will be net-zero.
Offsetting the Impact of Your Natural Gas Consumption
While consuming natural gas does not yet achieve net-zero emissions, it’s never been easier to reduce your impact on the environment. By purchasing renewable natural gas (RNG) or carbon offsets through your gas utility, you’re doing your part to fight climate change and support the expansion of renewable energy sources. Contact your natural gas utility to ask about available RNG blocks or carbon offset programs.
If you are interested in learning more or have more FAQs, contact us here!