What is natural gas?
Natural gas is primarily methane (CH4). Its purity makes it an environmentally friendly fuel. Methane is a nonreactive hydrocarbon, which means its emissions do not react with sunlight to create smog. Compressed natural gas (CNG) is nontoxic, noncarcinogenic and noncorrosive.
Found in the porous spaces in underground rock formations, natural gas isn’t feasible to transport over land due to its gaseous state. Rather, extensive underground pipelines have been developed to carry it from the wellhead to customers thousands of miles away after having been compressed to move more efficiently. Most U.S. households have access to a source of natural gas from a Local Distribution Company (LDC). These LDCs provide gas at pressures ranging from 4-50 psi.
Natural gas is lighter than air, making it a safe fuel for many applications. Any leakage will quickly dissipate into the atmosphere, reducing the risk of an explosion as compared to liquid fuels, which can pool on the ground or pollute our groundwaters.
Where does natural gas come from?
Origin - The natural gas we use today began as microscopic plants and animals living in the ocean tens of millions of years ago. As they thrived, they absorbed energy from the sun, which was stored as carbon molecules in their bodies. When they died, they sank to the bottom of the sea and were covered by layer after layer of sediment. As the plants and animals became buried deeper in the earth, heat and pressure began to rise. The pressure and heat transform the biomatter and produced natural gas.
Migration - After natural gas was formed, it tended to migrate upward through tiny pores and cracks in the surrounding rock. Some natural gas seeped to the surface, while other deposits traveled until they were trapped under impermeable layers of rock, such as shale or clay. These trapped deposits are where we find natural gas today.
Extraction - Removal of natural gas can be accomplished through either vertical or horizontal drilling. Chesapeake uses both methods, but specializes in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas from shale or deep rock formations. The horizontal drilling method uses vertical drilling from the surface down to a desired level. Then, the drillbit turns at a near 90 degree angle and bores into a natural gas reservoir horizontally. Hydraulic fracturing is a tried and tested technique, being used more than 1 million times in the past 60 years, that involves pumping fluids or water into the wellbore with enough pressure to create small microfractures, or fissures, in the rock formation to enhance recovery. It is this fracture through which natural gas moves into the wellbore and then up to the surface.
Why should we use natural gas?
Natural gas is by far the cleanest-burning hydrocarbon on the planet, with much lower CO2 emissions and fewer pollutants than coal or oil when burned.
Vast new natural gas resources are being discovered every year across North America, and according to recent academic and government agency studies, we have at least a 100-year supply.
Today, with the high cost of oil, natural gas remains a highly attractive alternative fuel.
Providing fuel for American homes, natural gas is a quintessentially American fuel, produced from coast to coast and together with supplies from Canada providing more than 99% of our domestic needs.
How is natural gas used?
Natural gas has many residential, commercial and industrial applications. It is also increasingly used as an alternative transportation fuel. As technology is developed and implemented, additional uses are being found for natural gas.
Key uses include:
- Residential uses: Stove cooktops, dryers and home heating
- Commercial uses: Heating and cooling offices, schools and hospitals
- Industrial uses: Preheating metals, glass melting and food processing
- Power generation: Operation of gas turbines to create electricity
- Transportation fuel: Transit buses, trucks, vans and passenger cars