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What Is Natural Gas? A Look at This Cost-Effective Resource

It's hard to imagine modern life without natural gas. This gaseous fossil fuel provides comfort and convenience to over 177 million American households and counting. It is by far America's most abundant fuel source. In fact, it supplies almost a quarter of all energy used nationwide!

Natural gas is one of the safest and cleanest choices among fossil fuels, and burns without leaving any residue. Another reason for its popularity among homeowners and business owners alike is its versatility. Natural gas can be used for commercial, industrial and residential purposes. It has truly become embedded in many facets of our everyday life.

Still, exactly what is natural gas? How is it created and where is it found? Let's take a closer look at this popular fuel source.

What Components Make Up Natural Gas?

Natural gas is formed deep below the surface of the earth. In its natural state, natural gas is made up of many different compounds. The main component of natural gas is methane, which is comprised of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms or CH4.

Natural gas also contains smaller amounts of other compounds such as:

  • Ethane
  • Natural gas liquids (NGL) or hydrocarbon gas liquids
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Water vapor

When natural gas processed for use, all elements other than methane must be removed. This extraction process results in several byproducts including ethane, propane, sulfur, water vapor, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and helium.

How Natural Gas Forms

Over hundreds of millions of years, the remains of plants and animals settle to the ocean floor. These remains mix with sand, silt, calcium carbonate over time to create layers. Centuries pass and these layers become buried beneath sand, silt, and rock, putting further pressure and heat on the decayed material. The organic matter undergoes a thermal breakdown process that converts it into hydrocarbons. The lightest of these hydrocarbons exist in the gaseous state under normal conditions and is known collectively as natural gas.

Finding Natural Gas

Searching for natural gas begins with geologists. These scientists look for the particular types of geologic formations that contain natural gas deposits. To find these deposits, geologists use seismic surveys on land as well as under the ocean in order to find the correct places to drill both natural gas and oil wells. These seismic surveys create and measure seismic waves to get information on the geology of rock formations.

There a variety of ways they can conduct these tests. For example, when conducted on land, a geologist may use a Thumper Truck, which has a large vibrating pad that pounds the ground to create seismic waves, helping them map underlying rock formations. Explosives can also be used for the same effect. Under the sea geologists use large blasts of sound, which create sonic waves to explore the geology beneath the ocean floor.

Once they review the seismic surveys and find a potential area that could produce natural gas, an exploratory well is drilled and then tested. The conclusions of the test can tell a lot about the quality and quantity of natural gas available at a drill site.

Types of Natural Gas

Natural gas can be found in a few different places. Where natural gas is found will determine its type. There types include:

  • Conventional Natural Gas - When natural gas has seeped into large cracks and spaces between overlying layers of rock it is referred to as Conventional Natural Gas.
  • Unconventional Natural Gas - This type of natural gas occurs when natural gas is formed within tiny openings or pores inside of shale, sandstone and other types of rock.
  • Associated Natural Gas - When natural gas is found within crude oil deposits, it is referred to as Associated Natural Gas.
  • Coal Bed Methane - This type of natural gas is found when natural gas is formed within coal deposits.

Natural Gas Wells

If test results come back indicating that a geologic formation contains enough natural gas to produce and make a profit, the decision is made to build a production well.

There can be one or several production wells installed depending upon estimates of how much natural gas a deposit contains. It is important to point out that natural gas wells can be drilled both vertically as well as horizontally into gas-bearing formations. However, in most conventional deposits, the natural gas flows up through wells to the surface easily.

In the United States, as well as a few other countries, natural gas is produced from rock formations by forcing a mixture of water, chemicals, and sand down a well using high pressure.

This is a process known as hydraulic fracturing. In the industry this is also referred to as unconventional production. This process breaks up the rock formation and releases the natural gas.

Processing Natural Gas for Consumption

As we mentioned above, natural gas contains other compounds that must be removed. When it's in this natural form it is referred to as wet natural gas. In addition to natural gas liquids, natural gas also contains non-hydrocarbons such as sulfur, helium, nitrogen, hydrogen sulfide, and carbon dioxide. All of these must be removed before it is sold to consumers.

After being pulled up to the wellhead, natural gas is sent to a processing plant where the water vapor, and non-hydrocarbon compounds are removed. The NGL that is separated from the wet gas is referred to as Natural Gas Plant Liquids, while the processed natural gas is referred to as dry, consumer grade or pipeline quality natural gas. Once processed, it is then shipped off to be used by consumers, both by tankers and by a series of pipelines.

Clean, Modern Choice for Fossil Fuels

An abundance of availability, combined with an ease of processing, makes natural gas a clear and popular energy source. The entire cycle of producing, processing, transporting, and using natural gas gives it an amazing energy efficiency of 92%, making it easily the most efficient energy source.

If you are interested in having your Georgia business run on natural gas or switching your supplier, our team of dedicated industry experts are here to help. Contact Fireside Natural Gas today for more information.