12 Facts About Natural Gas You Probably Didn’t Know
Natural gas is an amazing energy source that most of us use every day without thinking twice. But there’s a lot more to this handy fuel than meets the eye. From its ancient origins to its high-tech future, natural gas has a rich and fascinating history.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the most interesting facts and trivia about natural gas that you probably never knew. By the end, you’ll have a whole new appreciation for this versatile fuel that does so much more than just heat up your home and cook your food.
Table of Contents
A Quick Intro to Natural Gas
Before we dive into the fun facts, let’s start with a quick rundown of what exactly natural gas is.
Natural gas is a fossil fuel, meaning it was formed underground from the remains of plants and animals that died millions of years ago. It’s colorless, shapeless, and odorless in its pure form. Natural gas is composed mainly of methane, along with traces of other hydrocarbons like propane and butane.
Utilities add a distinct “rotten egg” odor to natural gas so that leaks can be detected quickly. This safety measure doesn’t affect the performance of natural gas as an energy source.
Natural gas can be used directly in many applications, from home heating and cooking to electricity generation and industrial processes. It’s transported via pipeline and can also be compressed into a liquid form for easier transportation and storage.
Now that we’re all on the same page about what natural gas is, let’s get to the fascinating facts!
1. Natural Gas Has Ancient Origins
While we rely on natural gas in so many modern applications, this fuel actually has very ancient origins.
Natural gas was first discovered and put to use over 2,500 years ago in China! Back then, the Chinese noticed natural gas seeping up from the ground in certain areas. They constructed crude bamboo pipelines to capture and transport this gas.
The ancient Chinese used this “fire dragon gas” for practical purposes like boiling sea water to extract salt and cooking food. They recognized natural gas as a useful energy source long before any other civilization.
2. It Was Worshipped as Eternal Flames
Not all ancient cultures viewed natural gas in practical terms. Some believed the flames fueled by natural gas leaks had mystical origins.
In India and Persia, natural gas seeps were worshipped in fire temples as eternal flames. The Oracle of Delphi in ancient Greece also prophesied while inhaling natural gas vapors seeping up through cracks in the earth.
These ancient cultures didn’t understand where the gas came from, but they revered its seemingly divine properties.
3. The First Commercial Uses Were in the 1700s
While ancient cultures made use of natural gas first, it took a long time for this fuel source to be commercialized.
The first well-documented commercial uses of natural gas were in Great Britain in the early 18th century. Around 1770, the British began extracting natural gas from coal beds and using it to light homes and streetlamps.
Baltimore became the first American city to light streets with natural gas in 1816. But it wasn’t until the late 19th century that large-scale transmission pipelines were built to supply major U.S. cities with natural gas.
4. It Has to Be Odorized for Safety
Raw natural gas is odorless, which makes gas leaks nearly impossible to detect. That’s why gas companies add foul-smelling odorants like mercaptans before pumping natural gas into supply lines.
The stench of odorized natural gas is commonly described as a rotten egg smell. This immediately alerts people to gas leaks before dangerous levels can accumulate.
Odorizing natural gas has saved many lives since this safety practice became widespread in the 1930s. So while that “rotten egg” scent is unpleasant, be glad it’s there!
5. Natural Gas Liquifies at -260° F
Natural gas remains gaseous at temperatures above approximately -260° F. But when cooled below this cryogenic point, it condenses into a clear, colorless liquid.
Liquefied natural gas takes up just 1/600th the space of gaseous natural gas. This makes it easier to store and transport over long distances.
Specialized tankers carry liquefied natural gas (LNG) around the world. When LNG reaches its destination, it’s turned back into a gas to be piped to users.
6. More Than 2.5 Million Miles of Pipeline
An immense infrastructure of pipelines transports natural gas across the United States.
Over 2.5 million miles of transmission and distribution pipelines link natural gas wells to end users. That’s enough pipeline to circle the earth 100 times!
Utilities invest billions each year to maintain and expand this pipeline network to meet growing natural gas demand. Pipelines are by far the safest and most efficient way to transport large volumes of natural gas.
7. It Generates Nearly 40% of U.S. Electricity
While we usually think of natural gas as a direct fuel source, it’s also an important electricity generator.
In 2021, natural gas produced about 40% of the electricity generated in the United States. It burns much cleaner than coal while producing reliable baseload power around the clock.
Natural gas power plants also provide essential grid flexibility. Output can be ramped up quickly when renewable sources like wind and solar falter.
8. Natural Gas Vehicles Are Gaining Popularity
Using compressed natural gas (CNG) or LNG as vehicle fuel is a smart transportation choice. There are now over 175,000 natural gas vehicles on U.S. roads.
Natural gas vehicles produce significantly lower emissions compared to gasoline or diesel. And with domestic natural gas abundant and affordable, using this fuel for transportation just makes sense.
Fleets like buses, garbage trucks, and delivery vans are increasingly switching to clean-burning natural gas. As fueling stations expand, more consumers are buying natural gas cars and trucks too.
9. Most Chefs Prefer Cooking with Natural Gas
Ask professional chefs what their preferred kitchen fuel is, and 9 out of 10 will say natural gas. Gas stoves provide instant, precise control over cooking temperatures that electric ranges just can’t match.
Natural gas burners distribute heat evenly, eliminating hot or cold spots. You also won’t get any electrical interference affecting utensils and cookware like you do with electric stoves.
For top chefs, natural gas is the only way to achieve perfect results when cooking up exquisite cuisine. Even amateur cooks can appreciate the advantages.
10. Natural Gas Prices Are Historically Low
Thanks to booming production from U.S. shale reserves, natural gas prices have stayed low over the past decade. This is great news for consumers.
U.S. residential natural gas prices averaged just $10.54 per thousand cubic feet in 2021. Adjusted for inflation, that’s the lowest average annual price in over 25 years!
Abundant supplies and efficient production are expected to keep U.S. natural gas prices affordable going forward. This provides both energy security and savings for consumers.
11. Natural Gas Has Environmental Benefits
When it comes to fossil fuels, natural gas is the cleanest and greenest option available. Burning natural gas releases significantly less air pollution and carbon emissions compared to coal or oil.
In fact, increased use of natural gas for power generation has reduced U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 750 million metric tons annually over the past decade.
While not emissions-free, natural gas serves as a cleaner “bridge” fuel as we continue expanding renewable energy sources.
12. Natural Gas Can Be Renewable Too
You probably know that oil, coal, and conventional natural gas are non-renewable fossil fuels. But natural gas can also be renewable!
Biogas produced from decomposing organic waste can be purified into pipeline-quality renewable natural gas (RNG). More and more RNG production facilities are coming online.
RNG can power vehicles, heat homes, generate electricity, and serve all the same uses as traditional natural gas. The possibilities are exciting for this renewable version of an ancient fuel.
Natural Gas Is Amazing!
We’ve just scratched the surface of fascinating natural gas facts. From its crucial role in history to potential future applications, there’s so much more to explore.
Natural gas really is an amazing fuel, and most of us couldn’t live comfortably without it. Next time you rely on this ubiquitous energy source, think about just how far it has come over thousands of years!
FAQs: Fun Natural Gas Facts
What are 5 interesting facts about natural gas?
- Natural gas was first used over 2,500 years ago in ancient China.
- It was worshipped as eternal flames in some ancient cultures.
- Odorants give natural gas its distinctive rotten egg smell as a safety precaution.
- When liquefied, natural gas takes up 1/600th the space of gaseous natural gas.
- Natural gas generates nearly 40% of electricity in the U.S.
What are 5 fun facts about natural gas?
- It can remain liquid at temperatures below -260° F.
- There are over 2.5 million miles of natural gas pipelines in the U.S.
- Most professional chefs prefer cooking with natural gas.
- Natural gas vehicles are gaining popularity as a cleaner transportation fuel.
- Natural gas prices are at historically low levels, benefiting consumers.
What is special about natural gas?
Some special traits of natural gas include:
- It’s very energy efficient, losing little energy content during combustion.
- Natural gas emits less air pollution when burned compared to other fossil fuels.
- It can be compressed into a portable liquid form for convenient transportation.
- Natural gas can also be renewable when produced from bio-waste.
- It provides instant heat for cooking and other applications.
What are 3 pros of using natural gas?
- It’s very affordable, especially with current low prices.
- Natural gas burns cleanly, producing less emissions than coal or oil.
- It’s efficient for many purposes like home heating, cooking, and electricity generation.
- Natural gas delivery infrastructure is reliable and already widely built-out.
- Abundant domestic supply provides energy independence and security.