History of Natural Gas

History of Natural Gas
Information from the Department of Energy

Often Thought of As Worthless
Natural Gas is colorless, shapeless and in its pure form, odorless. For many years, it was discarded as worthless. Even today, some countries (although not the United States) still get rid of it by burning it in giant flares, so large they can be seen from the Space Shuttle. Yet, it is one of the most valuable fuels we have.

Natural gas is made up mainly of a chemical called methane, a simple compound that has a carbon atom surrounded by four hydrogen atoms. Methane is highly flammable and burns almost completely. There is no ash and very little air pollution.

United States Consumption
Natural gas provides one-fifth of all the energy used in the United States. It is especially important in homes, where it supplies nearly half of all the energy used for cooking, heating and for fueling other types of home appliances.

Because natural gas has no odor, gas companies add a chemical to it that smells a little like rotten eggs. The odor makes it easy to smell if there is a gas leak in your house.

Amount of Natural Gas in USA
The United States has a lot of natural gas, enough to last for at least another 60 years and probably a lot longer. Our neighbor to the north, Canada, also has a lot of natural gas and some gas pipelines that begin in Canada run into the United States.

USA Research
The United States is looking for more ways to use natural gas, largely because it is easy to pipe from on location to another and because it burns very cleanly. More and more, we are using natural gas in power plants to generate electricity. Factories are using more natural gas, both as a fuel and as an ingredient for a variety of chemicals.

While natural gas is plentiful, there is still some uncertainty about how much is will cost to get it out of the ground in the future. Like oil, there is “easy” gas that can be produced from underground formations and there is gas that is not so easy. If we can find better and cheaper ways to find more of the “easy” gas and produce some of the more difficult gas, we can rely increasingly on natural gas in the future.

The ancient “eternal fires” in the area of present day Iraq that were reported in Plutarch’s writings around 100 to 125 A.D. probably were from natural gas escaping from cracks in the ground and ignited by lightning.

In 1821 in Fredonia, New York, William A. Hart drilled a 27 foot deep well in an effort to get a larger flow of gas from a surface seepage of natural gas. This was the first well intentionally drilled to obtain natural gas.

For most of the 1800s, natural gas was used almost exclusively as a fuel for lamps. Because there were no pipelines to bring gas into individual homes, most of he gas went to light city streets. After the 1890s, however, many cities began converting their street lamps to electricity. Gas producers began looking for new markets for their product.

In 1885, Robert Bunson invented a burner that mixed air with natural gas. The “Bunson burner” showed how gas could be used to provide heat for cooking and warming buildings.

It took the construction of pipelines to bring natural gas to new markets. Although one of the first lengthy pipelines was built in 1891, it was 120 miles and carried gas from fields in central Indiana to Chicago – there were very few pipelines built until after World War II in the 1940s.

1950s - 1960s
Improvements in metals, welding techniques and pipe making during the War made pipeline construction more economically attractive. After World War II, the nation began building its pipeline network. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, thousands of miles of pipeline were constructed throughout the United States. Today, the U.S. pipeline network, laid end-to-end, would stretch to the moon and back twice.