Natural gas is one of the various kinds of fossil fuels that are available for use to humans. It is used for multiple purposes, like heating, cooking, and electricity generation. This resource is also used as a fuel and as a chemical feedstock in the manufacture of plastics. It has various advantages and disadvantages.
WHAT IS NATURAL GAS?
It is a hydrocarbon gas mixture. Its primary component is methane, but it also includes varying amounts of other higher alkanes. This resource also contains small percentages of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, hydrogen sulphide, or helium. When layers of decomposing plant and animal matter are exposed to intense heat and pressure under the surface of the Earth, natural gas is formed. This process takes millions of years to complete. Since it is formed of decaying dead organic matter, it is a fossil fuel. Conventional gas is trapped in permeable material beneath impermeable rock. Natural gas found in other geological settings is not always so easy or practical to extract. This gas is called “unconventional.”
HOW IS NATURAL GAS OBTAINED?
Hydraulic fracturing, horizontal drilling, and acidizing are processes used to extract gas from the Earth’s crust. Hydraulic fracturing is also known as fracking. It refers to splitting open rock formations with high-pressure streams. These streams can be of sand, chemicals, and water. The stream props open the rocks, which allows gas to escape. Horizontal drilling refers to drilling straight down (vertically), and then drilling sideways (horizontally). This allows the area of the well to be increased without creating multiple drilling sites. Acidizing is a process of dissolving acidic components and inserting them into the natural gas well, which dissolves rock that may be blocking the flow of gas. 40% of the world’s reserves are found in the Middle East.
HOW DID WE START USING IT?
Humankind’s first interaction with natural gas can be traced back to 1000 B.C. A goat herdsman, in ancient Greece, on Mount Parnassus came across what looked like a ‘burning spring’, a flame rising from a fissure in the rock. Lightning strikes would ignite natural gas that was escaping from under the earth’s crust. This would create a fire coming from the earth, burning the natural gas as it seeped out from underground.
In 500 B.C. that the Chinese discovered the potential to use these fires to their advantage. They found places where gas was seeping to the surface and formed crude pipelines out of bamboo shoots to transport the gas, where it was used to boil seawater, separating the salt and making it palatable.
The general perception of natural gas is that it does not have a lot of cons to match its pros.
Let’s find out if this is true.
Advantages of Natural Gas
Out of all fossil fuels, natural gas burns the cleanest. The level of byproducts disseminated to the environment is little. Nitrogen oxide is a common pollutant that is released upon the combustion of this resource. However, technological advancements have reduced that to a large extent. It also does not leave residue in the form of ash, soot, or odours. When it is burned, it emits only carbon dioxide and water vapour. Humans exhale the same two components when we breathe. This resource emits almost 30% less CO2 than oil, and 45% less CO2 than coal.
Easier Storage and Transport
This gas can be stored in a number of ways. It can be stored as a gas or a liquid. Moreover, its properties allow it to be stored underground and on the ground level. Because it can be stored as a gas and as a liquid, it can also be transported like that. It can be transported via pipelines as a liquid. Additionally, it can also be transported as well as stored in tanks.
Since it stored hundreds of feet below the Earth’s surface, events on Earth would not impact this resource in any way. This means that events like storms, floods, et cetera would not affect the extraction of the fuel. Hence, natural gas is a reliable fuel.
Recent gas studies have learned that there are still more than 100 years of availability of gas in the U.S. alone. There are various large “pockets” of natural gas all over the globe, some of them still untapped.
This resource is cheaper than most non-renewable forms of energy. This is because its extraction does not cost as much as that of others. Additionally, it can be transported in different ways, which also lowers the transportation cost. Additionally, the technology that is used to extract natural gas has become more cost-effective in recent years. Technology has made that possible. It has also made it possible for areas that were once not viable drilling sites to see activity resembling a historic gold rush. This has greatly increased the supply. After that, because of the basic rules of supply and demand, the price has fallen.
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Disadvantages of Natural Gas
Even though it emits less CO2 than oil and coal, it still releases a large amount. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse, which is mainly responsible for global warming. Some experts say that mining of gas to use it may be more harmful to the environment than oil. Natural gas is mainly composed of methane. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and the second-most prevalent one. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2014 it accounted for about 11% of all greenhouse gas emissions from human activities in 2014.
The formation of this resource takes millions of years. So, the current supply, although very large, is definite. The rate of consumption of fossil fuels is faster than the rate of replenishment. Hence, it is a non-renewable resource.
Prone to Accidents
A major characteristic of this resource is that is odourless and colourless. So, in the effect of a leak, it cannot be detected. It is because of this reason that a pungent odour is added to the liquefied petroleum gas being supplied to households. Additionally, it is a highly combustible gas. When there is not enough oxygen to produce carbon dioxide (CO2) during combustion, carbon monoxide is produced. This can happen while operating a stove or an internal combustion engine in an enclosed space. Malfunctioning natural gas furnaces may emit poisonous carbon monoxide gas. When individuals inhale carbon monoxide it deprives them of necessary oxygen. Sustained exposure to carbon monoxide will incapacitate, and eventually kill, an individual.
Even though it is easier to store, natural gas needs a larger storage area. Its volume is four times that of petrol, which is why it is also expensive.
One of the many processes used to extract natural gas is hydraulic fracturing. It involves injecting highly pressurized sand and drilling fluid into the ground. This injection is done into a wellbore to create cracks in the deep-rock formations through which fossil fuels will flow more freely. It has recently been found that fracking, as hydraulic fracturing is also called, may contaminate nearby water sources. In a 2009 study, the EPA found that 11 out of 29 wells located near a natural gas drilling site in Wyoming contained traces of harmful materials, including heavy metals, oil and gas.
Pros and Cons of Natural Gas
|Easier storage and transport||Non-renewable|
|Reliable||Prone to accidents|
|Abundant supply||Expansive storage|