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What Exactly “IS” Natural Gas?

This “Natural Gas 101” article is intended as an informative guide to help clear up some common misconceptions going around these days about the topic of natural gas. So, let us first clarify exactly what natural gas is.

Natural gas is a fuel source consisting primarily of methane. It is often found associated with other fossil fuels, in coal beds, as methane clathrates, and is naturally created in a biological process by “methanogenic organisms” in environments such as bogs, land-fills and marshes.

Natural gas may, by some chemist standards, be considered a somewhat uninteresting and overly simplistic fuel source. However, those of us who are looking for a great source of dependable energy, actually find “gas” quite interesting. First “gas” is completely colorless, shapeless, and odorless in its purest form.

It’s highly combustible and when effectively burned, gives off a tremendous amount of energy! Unlike other fossil fuels, it burns extremely cleanly and emits impressively low levels of potentially harmful waste and byproducts into the air.

In the energy industry, “natural gas” is often simply referred to as “gas,” but don’t let the term “natural” confuse you! In order for natural gas to be used as a fuel, it must undergo extensive processing to remove almost all other elements of its make-up, beside methane.

Some of the valuable by-products that come to us from the refining process include: butane, ethane, pentane, propane as well as some higher molecular weight hydrocarbons, elemental sulfur, and on occasion, helium and nitrogen.

Most energy experts agree that natural gas is a major player and considered a most vital component to the over-all make-up of world's current, as well as short term and future supply of energy. It’s most definitely one of the cleanest, safest, and most useful of all energy sources available to us on Planet Earth.

However, despite its importance as a major portion of our short to long-term energy strategies, there are many misconceptions about natural gas. It’s important to get our ducks all nicely lined up in a row before we make any serious decisions about energy policy and the investments that are truly worthy of our serious consideration.

One common point of confusion is the term “Gas” itself. The word “gas” has various definitions and uses. For example, when we’re filling-up our automobile with what we commonly refer to as gas or petrol, we are actually talking about gasoline, which is a fossil fuel of an extremely different nature. Likewise, the so called “gas” that we use in our gas barbecues is actually propane, which, as stated earlier, is a byproduct of natural gas refinement, but not natural gas itself.

Natural gas is found in reservoirs beneath the earth’s surface and is often discovered in large pockets in the near vicinity of oil deposits. Therefore, companies looking to drill oil are very careful to specifically search for any evidence of natural gas reservoirs in the area, using a collection of highly sensitive and sophisticated technology that can detect the existence of wither or both at any location.

Once a potential deposit has been located by a coordinated team of exploration geologists and geophysicists, its then up to a team of drilling experts to actually dig down to where the natural gas is believed (hoped) to exist. This can be either on land or offshore.

After the gas is effectively extracted, it is then shipped off to a refinery to separate out other elements and remove impurities such as water, other gases, sand, various materials, elements and compounds.

During refinement, some hydrocarbons are removed and sold separately, including propane, butane, and hydrogen sulfide, used to produce sulfur. Then the refined natural gas is transmitted through a network of pipelines and delivered to its “end point” of use.

Natural gas continues to play an increasingly larger role in fulfilling our ever expanding energy needs. Our ability to more effectively refine and utilize it will help us to better ensure longer life and even greater value coming to us from our current, actively tapped fields of already “over-tasked” oil wells.

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