Natural Gas Research Paper

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Natural gas consists primarily of methane. It is often located alongside other fossil fuels. Cleaner than other fossil fuels, gas is an important source of energy, both as a gas and in a liquified state, used in heating, cooking, and powering automobiles. Before it can be used as a fuel, gas must be processed to make it near pure methane.

Natural gas is a flammable mixture of hydrocarbon gases, formed primarily of methane (CH4) and produced by the anaerobic decay of organic material over the course of millions of years. The history of natural gas usage goes back in time at least three thousand years, to the ancient civilizations of India, Greece, Persia, and China. But extensive use of natural gas only occurred following the 1960s.

At the beginning of the third millennium, natural gas fulfils a vital role in the global supply of energy. As with other important sources of energy, such as oil, the forces of demand and supply dictate that the location of known natural gas reserves brings with it a certain degree of political and economic power. As of 2009, Russia is the both the world’s largest producer of natural gas and home to the world’s largest proven natural gas reserves. The Middle East— including Iran, Qatar (home to the world’s largest natural gas field), Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—is also known to have significant proven reserves of natural gas.

When early civilizations first came across natural gas seeping out from under the earth’s surface through fissures in rock and in the form of mysterious flames, they believed it to emanate from supernatural powers. Such experiences with natural gas flames were especially common in ancient India, Greece, and Persia. However, around 600 BCE the Chinese learned to use natural gas flames to boil brine, separating out the salt and providing drinkable water. Indeed, Confucius wrote of wells 100 feet deep along the Tibetan border.

In 1785 Britain was the first country to commercialize the use of natural gas, using it to light up houses, streets, and the like. Some four decades later, in 1816, natural gas started to be used for street–lighting in the United States. Natural gas was first discovered in North America as early as 1626, when explorers observed that Native Americans in the area of Lake Erie were igniting gases that seeped out from the earth’s surface. The first natural gas well, however, was only dug in the United States in 1821, in Fredonia, New York, by William Hart. On 27 August 1859, Edwin Drake found both natural gas and oil at some sixty-nine feet below earth’s surface. Drake’s findings marked a new age for natural gas production in North America. Prior to his work, natural gas was primarily produced from coal. In order to commercialize his well’s capacity, a pipeline was built from the well to a nearby village, Titusville, Pennsylvania.

Generally speaking, in the nineteenth century it seemed that natural gas was about to gain a vital role in Europe and North America as a lighting fuel for homes and public streets. But its role was limited due to the difficulty in transporting it from the well to its end-users, as the existing pipeline infrastructure was not capable of doing the job. Moreover, with the advent of electric power in the 1880s, natural gas lights were replaced by electric lights.

As natural gas had lost its role as a lighting source, the natural gas industry searched for new uses for its product. In 1885 the inventor Robert Bunsen invented a device that used natural gas for cooking and heating, allowing its flame to be regulated. The Bunsen burner diversified the potential benefits of natural gas and encouraged the global demand for it. However, the difficulty in transporting gas to its potential users continued to restrict its actual usability.

Improvements in pipe-making, metals, and welding technologies during World War II made pipeline construction more economically attractive. Thus, after the war the world began building an extensive network of gas pipelines. Today, this network consists of over 1 million miles in the United States alone (enough to stretch to the moon and back twice). The location and control of these pipelines, particularly across international borders, is a potential source of political and diplomatic tensions; as occasionally experienced between Russia and some of its former satellites, such as Belarus and Ukraine, during the early 2000s. Moreover, the utilization of natural gas was diversified to include water heating, space heating and cooling, and as a fuel for generating electricity. The transportability of natural gas opened the possibility of using it for a variety of home appliances—for oven ranges and clothes dryers, for example.

The oil shortages of the 1970s turned the world’s attention toward ways of conserving energy, while a search for cheaper, more available energy sources also began. The rise of environmental awareness in the 1960s and 1970s further impacted the energy industry, encouraging the development of energy generation sources that would be less polluting. As a result of these developments, natural gas became the preferred fuel for energy generation. But while natural gas is cleaner than other fossil fuels, it nevertheless does contribute to carbon emissions, and given that it consists primarily of methane, natural gas is a greenhouse gas.

Continued oil shortages and concerns about environmental quality are expected to further increase the demand for natural gas. Compressed or liquefied natural gas is considered a cleaner and economically competitive alternative to automobile fuels such as petroleum and diesel. As of 2009 there are approximately 10 million natural gas powered vehicles in use around the world, many of them as public transport such as buses. Changes in the generation segment of the power industry, such as turning to fuel cells, which are combustion-free, and the quest for pollution- free power generators capable of being sited at the end-user’s place of consumption, also are expected to increase our reliance on natural gas.


  1. Castaneda, C. J., & Smith, C. M. (1996). Gas pipelines and the emergence of America’s regulatory state: A history of Panhandle Eastern Corporation: 1928–1993. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
  2. Clark, J. A. (1963). The chronological history of the petroleum and natural gas industries. Houston, TX: Clark Books.
  3. Herbert, J. H. (1992). Clean cheap heat: The development of residential markets for natural gas in the United States. New York: Praeger.
  4. MacAvoy, P. W. (2000). The natural gas market: Sixty years of regulation and deregulation. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  5. Peebles, M. W. H. (1980). Evolution of the gas industry. New York: New York University Press.

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