The Unexpected Rise of Natural Gas

By Flavin, Christopher; Lenssen, Nicholas | The Futurist, May-June 1995 | Go to article overview

The Unexpected Rise of Natural Gas


Flavin, Christopher, Lenssen, Nicholas, The Futurist


With growing advantages to its use, natural gas may usurp oil as the world's energy resource of choice.

When the U.S. Senate called a hearing in 1984 to assess the prospects for natural gas, almost everyone expected a gloomy session. At the time, gas production in the United States had been falling for 12 years and prices had tripled in a decade. It seemed a textbook example of a rapidly depleting resource.

Few were surprised when Charles B. Wheeler, senior vice president at Exxon - the world's largest oil company - told the Senate that natural gas was essentially finished as a major energy source. "We project a shortfall of economically available gas from any source," said Wheeler.

Only one voice interrupted the gloom that pervaded the hearing room - that of Robert Hefner, an iconoclastic geologist who headed a small Oklahoma gas-exploration company and grandson of one of the earliest oil wildcatters. Hefner told those in attendance, "My lifetime of work requires that I respectfully have to disagree with everything Exxon says on the natural-gas resource base."

A decade later, legions of government and industry analysts have had to eat their words, while Hefner has turned his contrarian views on natural gas into a comfortable fortune. Natural-gas prices in the United States fell sharply after 1986 and production climbed. By 1993, the nation was producing 15% more gas. For the world as a whole, gas production has risen 30% since the mid-1980s, with increases recorded in nearly every major country.

The world now appears to be in the early stages of a natural-gas boom that could profoundly shape our energy future. If natural-gas production can be doubled or tripled in the next few decades (as Hefner and a growing number of geologists believe), this relatively clean and versatile hydrocarbon could replace large amounts of coal and oil. Because it is easy to transport and use - even in small, decentralized technologies - natural gas could help accelerate the trend toward a more-efficient energy system and, over the long run, the transition to renewable sources of energy.

Advantages of Natural-Gas Use

The environmental advantages of natural gas over other fossil fuels were a strong selling point from the start. Methane is the simplest of hydrocarbons - a carbon atom surrounded by four hydrogen atoms - with a higher ratio of hydrogen to carbon than other fossil fuels. Natural gas helped reduce the dangerous levels of sulfur and particulates in London's air during the 1950s. In fact, these two contaminants are largely absent from natural gas by the time it goes through a separation plant and reaches customers. Natural-gas combustion also produces no ash and smaller quantities of volatile hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides than oil or coal do. And, unlike coal, gas has no heavy metals.

As a gaseous fuel, methane tends to be combusted more thoroughly than solids or liquids are. Due to its lower carbon content, natural gas produces 30% less carbon dioxide per unit of energy than oil does and 43% less than coal, thus reducing its impact on the atmosphere. It is also relatively easy to process compared with oil and less expensive to transport (via pipeline) than coal, which generally moves by rail.

To be fair, methane gas is not entirely benign. When not properly handled, it can explode. And as a powerful greenhouse gas in its own right, it can contribute to the warming of the atmosphere. But with careful handling, both of these problems can be reduced dramatically.

Gas as a Power Generator

Natural gas is far more versatile than either coal or oil, and with a little effort can be used in more than 90% of energy applications. Yet, until recently, its use has been largely restricted to household and industrial markets, in which it has thrived. In North America, for example, natural gas is far and away the most popular heating fuel. By the early 1990s, nearly two-thirds of the single-family homes and apartment buildings built in the United States had such heating systems. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Unexpected Rise of Natural Gas
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.