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About Natural Gas?

Natural gas is a combustible, gaseous mixture of simple hydrocarbon compounds, usually found deep in underground reservoirs formed by porous rock. It can be found by itself or with crude oil and hydrocarbon condensates — gases that liquefy at normal atmospheric pressure and closely resemble kerosene.

Slowly, over the course of millions of years, the pressure and heat from the earth turned the remains of plants and tiny sea animals buried by sand and rock into petroleum and natural gas. Although natural gas is found all over the world, our supply of natural gas comes mostly from the United States.

The main ingredient in natural gas is methane (CH4). Minor amounts of other gases, including ethane, propane, butane and pentane may also be found with the methane.

Natural gas is one of the cleanest burning fossil fuels, producing primarily carbon dioxide, water vapor and small amounts of nitrogen oxides when combusted. As a result, demand for natural gas has increased significantly, which is good news for the environment.

History of Natural Gas

Natural gas was discovered many centuries ago in Greece, Persia and India. The ancients were intrigued by burning springs created when natural gas seeped from the ground and was ignited by lightning. Temples were often built around these “eternal flames.”

About 2,500 years ago, the Chinese piped gas from shallow wells through bamboo poles and burned it under large pans to extract salt from boiled sea water.

In 1821, the first successful gas well in the United States was dug in Fredonia, New York, by William Hart. His well was 27 feet deep, which is quite shallow when compared with the 30,000-foot wells commonly drilled today. The Fredonia Gas Light Co., founded in 1858, was the first U.S. natural gas company. By 1900, natural gas had been discovered in 17 states.

Natural Gas Today

Natural gas service is delivered to more than 70 million American consumers through a 2.4-million-mile pipeline network. Gas service is available in all 50 states.

Three segments of the industry are involved in making sure America gets the natural gas it needs.

* Production companies explore, drill and extract natural gas from the ground.
* Pipeline companies transport the gas from the wellhead to the city limits.
* Distribution companies deliver gas to local customers.

Some companies are involved in several aspects of natural gas delivery. Others perform limited functions, such as aggregating gas supplies or gas storage.

Traditionally, customers purchase gas from their local utility, which is regulated by a state agency. Some gas customers can choose their gas supplier: either buying from their local utility or through an unregulated gas marketing company. Primarily large industrial and commercial customers participate in these programs.

Natural Gas Supply

The natural gas industry provides approximately one-fourth of the total energy needs of the country. About 89 percent of the gas used in the United States comes from domestic wells; most of the remainder cames from Canada.

Although the United States holds only about 3.2 percent of the Earth's known gas reserves, it produces about 24 percent of the world's supply — second only to Russia.

Almost one-half of the 50 states have large deposits of natural gas, but just five states have one-half of the U.S. reserves: Alaska, Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma. Currently, no Alaskan gas is being transported to the lower-48 states.

The Environment

Because natural gas is the cleanest-burning fossil fuel, it can help improve the quality of air and water when used in place of more polluting energy sources.

Natural gas combustion results in virtually no emissions of carcinogenic particulates or sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain. Natural gas also emits far lower amounts of carbon monoxide, reactive hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide than other fossil fuels.

To learn more about natural gas and the environment, visit our Environmental Information page.