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What Is Natural Gas? Is It a Better Alternative Fuel?

  • Gas
  • Natasha Young
  • 6 minutes

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With the never-ending gas price spikes, it’s obvious that we would search for an alternative. And luckily, we landed on one, natural gas. It is a resource that is suitable for both domestic and commercial purposes. But is it an effective alternative fuel? Is it safe to use it? Read to know more. 

What is natural gas? 

Natural gas is a naturally occurring fossil fuel which is an efficient energy resource. It consists of different compounds. Methane (CH4) makes up most of the natural gas. It also has small amounts of hydrocarbon gas liquids called natural gas liquids (NGLs) and nonhydrocarbon gases like CO2 and water vapor.  

Where can you find it on Earth? 

Natural gas is sometimes found alone in rocks, and sometimes it is found with oil. Some deposits are easy to get to, while others are a few kilometers below the top of the Earth. 

What does natural gas smell like? 

Natural gas has no smell. But companies add Mercaptan, a chemical that smells like rotten eggs, which makes it easier to detect leaks. The smell comes from the sulfur component present in the chemical. 

What is it used for? 

It is one of the few sources of energy that is usable in all parts of the world economy. It is useful to make electricity, heat homes, and businesses, and move people and things. Compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) are the two types that are perfect as alternative fuels.

Both are made in the United States, cost about the same, and are sold in stores. The Energy Policy Act of 1992 considers CNG and LNG alternative fuels. They are available in units of gasoline or diesel gallon equivalents (GGEs or DGEs), which depend on how much energy a gallon of gasoline or diesel fuel has. Using LNG as a fuel for cars and ships could be better for the economy and the environment than using diesel or fuel oil.  

Is Natural Gas safe? 

Natural gas has no color, smell, or taste on its own. In some countries, gas has to have a smell so that it helps to detect the leak. Pipeline companies prioritize and take steps to ensure that health, safety, security, and environmental issues when planning, building, and running pipelines. By evaluating, inspecting, and keeping pipelines, they work to stop gas leaks. 

When gas cools down, it’s safe to ship it over long distances. Once cold, it turns into a clear, colorless, and non-toxic liquid. LNG is not flammable or dangerous when it is in a liquid state. LNG tanks consist of two hulls to keep the cargo systems from damage or leaks.

Also read: What Does a Gas Leak Smell Like? Is It Safe? 


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How is it transported? 

Natural gas transportation is mainly by pipe or by ship. As part of an integrated gas transport network, pipes can be used to move gas over long distances at a low cost. When pipelines can’t get to customers cheaply, natural gas can be cooled until it turns into a liquid. This makes it easier to ship to where it’s needed. 

What are shale gas and tight gas?  

Shale gas is is held in place by shale rock layers. Since the rock is impenetrable, liquids can’t get through it, which makes it harder to get the oil out.  

Tight gas is held in tiny holes in rocks that are 20,000 times smaller than the dimensions of human hair. To get it out, you need a special method called hydraulic fracturing. 

Where does natural gas come from? 

Sedimentary areas are the major reserves of natural gas. To get to these reservoirs, a hole or well is drilled through the rock to let the gas escape and be gathered. Most natural gas is taken out of the ground by drilling straight down from the top.

Nearly all of the natural gas that the U.S. uses is now produced in the country. In 2022, the U.S. made about 35.81 trillion cubic feet of dry natural gas, about 98.11 billion cubic feet per day on average and the most made in one year. Most of the production gains since 2005 are the aftereffects of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, especially in shale, sandstone, carbonate, and other tight geological formations.  

Natural gas comes from oil and gas wells on land and at sea and coal beds. In 2022, the amount of dry natural gas produced in the U.S. was about 10.8% higher than the amount of natural gas that the country used. Even though the U.S. gets most of the natural gas it needs from its own production, it also imports some natural gas to help meet local demand. 

In 2022, the U.S. made about 1.29 trillion cubic feet more dry natural gas than it did in 2021. This was mostly due to higher demand, mainly for exports, and spiked up prices of natural gas. 

Production and Consumption Statistics 

About 0.80 trillion cubic feet of dry natural gas was made offshore in 2022. This was about 2.3% of all the dry natural gas made in the U.S.  

Source: EIA

Most of this is produced off the coast of the United States—87.6%—in federal areas in the Gulf of Mexico. In 2022, about 0.3% of all dry natural gas produced in the U.S. came from ocean waters managed by Alabama, Alaska, California, Louisiana, and Texas. 


Source: EIA

The United States has a lot of supplies available. The Annual Energy Outlook 2023 (AEO2023) [1] says that most of the dry natural gas produced in the U.S. through 2050 will come from shale and tight gas. 

Also read: Car Smells Like Gas? 6 Common Reasons 

What is the Environmental Impact? 

Natural gas is the fuel that burns cleanest. The IEA says that it releases between 45% and 55% less greenhouse gases when used to make energy than coal. Modern power companies that use it instead of coal put out less than one-tenth as many pollutants. But it mostly consists of methane. It is a strong greenhouse gas that makes global warming worse than carbon dioxide. 

Why can’t we replace Natural Gas with Renewables? 

Even though green energy sources are important, they can’t meet all the world’s energy needs right now. Renewable energy is the power source of electricity. But it only meets about 18% of the world’s energy needs. For renewables to have more of an effect, electricity needs to be used more in other important parts of the business. 

Methane can help green energy by quickly making up for drops in solar or wind power and responding to sudden spikes in demand. It is a good hydropower resource because it ensures there is electricity even when it doesn’t rain much. 


[1] – Annual Energy Outlook 2023 – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). “Annual Energy Outlook 2023 – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA),” May 4, 2023. https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/index.php.

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