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Used to heat homes, power appliances, and sometimes even fuel vehicles, natural gas is a substance that humans lean upon heavily. Emitting few emissions and burning clean, natural gas generates huge amounts of energy with relatively few debilitating ramifications.
How is Natural Gas Formed?
Similar to the way in which oil and coal were formed millions of years ago, natural gas is the by-product of years of animal and plant decay. When these plants and animals died millions of years ago, their bodies piled up and were compressed into layers under the pressure of sand and debris. As the years passed, this debris slowly transformed into hard rock, increasing the pressure upon the decaying matter. After many millions of years, this pressure and temperature increase caused the decaying plant and animal remains to change into oil, coal, and natural gas.
What Exactly is Natural Gas?
Natural gas is clear, odorless, and is formed from many other gases. The primary ingredient in natural gas is methane, but natural gas can also contain ethanol, oxygen, butane, carbon dioxide, propane, nitrogen, hydrogen sulphide, and a few other gases. This is natural gas in its purest form, before it is filtered or refined. Before it is purified, natural gas is known as “wet” gas. After it has gone through a treatment plant, it is known as “dry” gas and can be distributed to consumers. Dry natural gas is almost completely pure methane.
Natural gas is highly combustible, burns clean, emits few carbon emissions, and has no smell or color. The smell that’s usually associated with natural gas—a sour, rotten smell—is actually a scent that has been added to the gas for safety purposes.
Natural gas is a non-renewable resource. The world will eventually run out of natural gas, and humans cannot create more.
How is Natural Gas Extracted?
The process for extracting natural gas is lengthy, and requires step-by-step procedures. First, natural gas in the earth must be located, which is usually the job of scientists or geologists. Scientists study rock formations, use seismic waves (which send vibrations into the earth—depending on the type of vibration that is sent back, there may be natural gas), and take samples of earth or rock.
Once a promising location has been identified, the drilling begins. Much like how oil is drilled, natural gas is extracted via pipeline.
After the gas has been extracted, it is cleaned or purified. During this process, other gases such as propane and butane are removed in order to make the gas dry.
What is Natural Gas Used for?
Natural gas is used for 24% of America’s energy needs in industry, electrical generation, commercial use, and the home. Because natural gas costs less than electricity, it’s a favorite amongst homeowners, who use natural gas for cooking, heating needs, natural gas powered air conditioning, lighting, and even some natural gas appliances.
The industrial and commercial uses of natural gas are primarily to heat water and buildings, but can also be used for food processing, waste treatment, glass melting, or other energy needs.
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