About Natural Gas

According to the American Gas Association, more than 60 million customers use natural gas in homes and businesses in the United States. In fact, natural gas provides about 24 percent of all the energy that is used across the nation.

What is natural gas?
Natural gas is formed deep underground, usually in areas around coal and oil. The raw form of natural gas that we use for energy is called methane. Other substances found in natural gas, such as butane, propane, and ethane, are removed before we use the methane gas that we call natural gas in appliances or equipment.

How was natural gas created?
The natural gas we use was formed millions of years ago when organic matter was buried in the earth and ocean floor. Over time, thick layers of mud, sand, silt and rock settled over the matter, pushing it deeper and deeper into the earth’s crust. As the layers of matter built up, pressure and heat from the shifting surface of the earth filled the resulting cracks and crevices with oil and natural gas.

Is natural gas safe?
Yes! Natural gas has a very limited range of flammability. This means that it takes just the right mixture of air and natural gas before it can burn. Also, natural gas is lighter than air, so it usually will safely rise and disperse into the air if it is allowed to vent freely. Even with this in mind, it is very important to understand natural gas and to be aware of safety tips concerning its use. Most accidents occur because of lack of knowledge that leads to unsafe equipment or appliances, not because natural gas itself is unsafe.

What is mercaptan?
Your nose knows—the smell of mercaptan is unmistakable. And that’s exactly why it is added to natural gas, helping you detect even the smallest amount of natural gas leaking into the air. In its native state, natural gas is odorless, colorless and tasteless. Mercaptan, the harmless chemical that is added to natural gas, contains sulfur, which makes it smell. Many people describe the odor of mercaptan as similar to rotten eggs. When mercaptan is added to natural gas, it rises and dissipates much like the gas itself, making the two substances ideal companions.

Are we running out of natural gas?
The natural gas we are using today took millions of years to form. That is why scientists and engineers are doing all they can to help us use this natural resource efficiently. In addition, we always are searching for new sources of natural gas deep in the ground, even under the ocean. What’s more, energy engineers are busy developing ways we can utilize natural gas that is being created in landfills across the nation. This gas, called biogas, is more than half methane, which is the substance we need most for fuel. There are more than 300 landfills being tapped for biogas today and another 500 will probably be in use someday soon. These are just some of the reasons experts believe we have plenty of natural gas for today and the future.