Natural Gas

natural gas, natural mixture of gaseous hydrocarbons found issuing from the ground or obtained from specially driven wells. The composition of natural gas varies in different localities. Its chief component, methane, usually makes up from 80% to 95%, and the balance is composed of varying amounts of ethane, propane, butane, and other hydrocarbon compounds. Some of the hydrocarbons found in gasoline also occur as vapors in natural gas; by liquefying these hydrocarbons, gasoline can be obtained.

Although commonly associated with petroleum deposits it also occurs separately in sand, sandstone, limestone, and shale deposits. Some geologists theorize that natural gas is a byproduct of decaying vegetable matter in underground strata, while others think it may be primordial gases that rise up from the mantle. Because of its flammability and high calorific value, natural gas is used extensively as an illuminant and a fuel.

Natural gas was known to the ancients but was considered by them to be a supernatural phenomenon because, noticed only when ignited, it appeared as a mysterious fire bursting from the ground. One of the earliest attempts to harness it for economic use occurred in the early 19th cent. in Fredonia, N.Y. Toward the latter part of the 19th cent., large industrial cities began to make use of natural gas, and extensive pipeline systems have been constructed to transport gas. Since the late 20th cent., improvements in hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" —in which pressurized fluids are injected into a well to induce rock fractures that allow the release of natural gas—and its use in combination with horizontal drilling has permitted natural gas to extracted from previously untappable deposits of shale.

Liquefied natural gas, or LNG, is natural gas that has been pressurized and cooled so as to liquefy it for convenience in shipping and storage. The boiling point of natural gas is extremely low, and only in the 1970s did cryogenic technology (see low-temperature physics) advance enough to make the production and transport of LNG commerically feasible. Some of the natural gas moved to and from the United States is carried as LNG in special tankers.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Clean Cheap Heat: The Development of Residential Markets for Natural Gas in the United States
John H. Herbert.
Praeger, 1992
Competition in the Natural Gas Pipeline Industry: An Economic Policy Analysis
Edward C. Gallick.
Praeger, 1993
Farewell Fossil Fuels: Reviewing America's Energy Policy
Sidney Borowitz.
Plenum Trade, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Natural Gas"
International Trade in Natural Gas
Melamid, Alexander.
The Geographical Review, Vol. 84, No. 2, April 1994
Productivity in Crude Oil and Natural Gas Production
Friedman, Brian L.
Monthly Labor Review, Vol. 115, No. 3, March 1992
Energy Structures and Environmental Futures
Torleif Haugland; Helge Ole Bergesen; Kjell Roland.
Oxford University, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Energy-Sector Developments: Natural Gas"
The Unexpected Rise of Natural Gas
Flavin, Christopher; Lenssen, Nicholas.
The Futurist, Vol. 29, No. 3, May-June 1995
Do Gas Cost Incentive Mechanisms Work? A Nation-Wide Study
Hlasny, Vladimir.
American Economist, Vol. 50, No. 1, Spring 2006
Unitizing Oil and Gas Fields around the World: A Comparative Analysis of National, Laws and Private Contracts
Weaver, Jacqueline Lang; Asmus, David F.
Houston Journal of International Law, Vol. 28, No. 1, Fall 2005
New Dimensions of Market Failure in Electricity and Natural Gas Supply
Trebing, Harry M.
Journal of Economic Issues, Vol. 35, No. 2, June 2001
Implications and Policy Options of California's Reliance on Natural Gas
Mark A. Bernstein; Paul D. Holtberg; David Ortiz.
Rand, 2002
High Altitude Energy: A History of Fossil Fuels in Colorado
Lee Scamehorn.
University Press of Colorado, 2002
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