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8.11: Natural Gas

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  • 4.5.1: Introduction

    Crude oil is frequently found in reservoirs along with natural gas. In the past, natural gas was either burned or allowed to escape into the atmosphere. Now, technology has been developed to capture the natural gas and either reinject it into the well or compress it into liquid natural gas (LNG).

    Natural gas is predominately composed of methane (CH4). Some of the gases that are produced along with methane, such as butane and propane (by-products), are separated and cleaned at a gas processing plant. The by-products, once removed, are used in a number of ways. For example, propane can be used for cooking on gas grills. Natural gas withdrawn from a well may contain liquid hydrocarbons and nonhydrocarbon gases. This is called "wet" natural gas. The natural gas is separated from these components near the site of the well or at a processing plant. The gas is then considered "dry" and is sent through pipelines to a local distribution company, and, ultimately, to the consumer.

    Most of the natural gas consumed in the United States is produced in the United States. Some is imported from Canada and shipped to the United States in pipelines. A small amount of natural gas is shipped to the United States as LNG. We can also use machines called digesters that turn today's organic material (plants, animal wastes, etc.) into natural gas through the process of anaerobic decomposition. This process replaces waiting for millions of years for the gas to form naturally. The natural gas produced by these digesters is not a fossil fuel, but is rather a renewable source of bioenergy (see chapter 5).

    4.5.2: Fracking for Gas

    Conventional natural gas is found in permeable reservoirs, typically composed of sandstone or limestone, where extraction is relatively straightforward because the gas generally flows freely. Unconventional gas is found in rocks with extremely low permeability, which makes extracting it much more difficult. Such gas is extracted by employing so-called “unconventional” techniques such as hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which has been in use since the late 1940s. In recent decades, fracking technology has greatly improved, and its use has been expanded. The process of fracking for gas is very similar to that of fracking for oil, and the environmental impacts are similar also.

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