Natural Gas Questions

Being involved in the energy industry, I receive loads of questions regarding natural gas.  It’s a hot commodity right now so I understand that people want answers.  Below you will find ten questions that have been boggling some minds lately.

WHICH COUNTRIES ARE THE LARGEST PRODUCERS OF NATURAL GAS?

Russia, the United States, Iran, and Canada are among the top natural gas producing countries in the world.  The largest consuming nations include the United States, Iran, Russia, and China.

IS IT POSSIBLE TO RUN OUT OF NATURAL GAS, SIMILAR TO HOW THE EARTH HAS A LIMITED SUPPLY OF OIL?

It’s impossible to determine exactly how much natural gas is left in the ground until it’s extracted, but the Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that 2,203 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) can still be recovered in the United States.  If U.S. consumption remains at its current rate of 24 Tcf per year, this supply will be enough to last for roughly 92 years.  But the U.S. is not the only country producing and consuming natural gas.  In 2011, an estimated 6,707 Tcf of natural gas remained in the global reserve.  This number continues to fluctuate, but considering that it takes thousands of years to create natural gas, and we continue to extract it at a much faster rate, eventually running out of this resource is a possibility.

NATURAL GAS IS A FOSSIL FUEL, SO WHY IS IT BETTER TO BURN THAN OTHER FOSSIL FUELS LIKE COAL AND OIL?

Burning natural gas does result in some nitrogen oxides as well as carbon dioxide, but in much lower quantities (nearly half!) compared to when coal or oil is burned.  This is due to the fact that natural gas is less chemically complex than other fossil fuels.

WHAT IS LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS (LNG)?

LNG is simply natural gas that has been converted into a liquid.  When cooled to -260°F, natural gas converts to a liquid form, shrinking its volume and making it easier to store and transport.  The process involves removing the heavy hydrocarbons, which results in almost pure methane.  The clear, odorless liquid that remains is non-corrosive and non-toxic.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NATURAL GAS AND SHALE GAS?

Shale gas is simply natural gas that is found in shale formations, or fine-grained sedimentary rocks deep within the earth’s surface.  Obtaining shale gas used to be uneconomical, but with advancements in technology over the past decade, this has become a more popular and cost-effective resource.

THERE HAS BEEN A LOT OF UPROAR IN THE NEWS LATELY ABOUT OBTAINING SHALE GAS. IS HYDRAULIC FRACTURING SAFE?

Though protestors have been arguing that hydraulic fracturing is bringing harm to the surrounding environment, causing earth tremors, and producing dangerous drinking water, government officials have been ensuring that if hydraulic fracturing is approached in the correct manner, it can be done safely and with minimal environmental impact.

HOW MANY PEOPLE IN THE U.S. USE NATURAL GAS? AND HOW DO I FIND A SUPPLIER IN MY AREA?

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported 5,355,613 commercial customers and 66,624,457 residential customers in 2012.  The safest way to find a reliable natural gas supplier with an exemplary reputation is to work with your local energy consultant.  They will usually have great relationships with the top suppliers, and will be able to obtain the lowest rates for your business.

IS NATURAL GAS EXPENSIVE?

According to Chesapeake Energy, the ratio between the price of a barrel of oil and the price of one thousand cubic feet of natural gas (Mcf) is 6:1.  The energy contained in six Mcfs of natural gas would be equivalent to approximately one barrel of oil.  So between the two sources of energy, natural gas is much cheaper.

WHAT CAUSES THE PRICE OF NATURAL GAS TO FLUCTUATE?

The price of natural gas typically depends on supply and demand.  Since there are so few alternatives for heating and electricity generation, the price may change dramatically if supply or demand varies quickly during periods of peak demand.  Factors that could affect supply and demand include weather conditions, petroleum prices, natural gas production, and storage levels.  Working with an energy advisor can often help businesses find the lowest rates.

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO PURCHASE NATURAL GAS?

If your business is in a state with a deregulated natural gas market, consider looking into supply pricing now.  If you are under contract, you can still lock in today’s prices for the future.

I hope this helps to clear some things up, but if you still have questions floating around in your mind, feel free to ask!  Leave your questions in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to provide you with the most accurate information.

Photo Credit: Natural Gas Questions/shutterstock