by Arnav Gorantala
Do you know that approximately 25% of this generation’s electricity comes from natural gas? Many countries depend on natural gas for a large portion of their energy, but natural gas is more dangerous than you may have thought it was. So what is natural gas? and why is it so dangerous?
Millions of years ago, when dead organisms were beginning to decay and form layers under the surface of the Earth, they were exposed to high temperatures, produced by the Earth’s core, and compressed the organisms and converted them into a gas, which consisted primarily of methane, called-natural gas.
Natural gas is a flammable gas and is also one of the cleanest burning fossil fuels. It is one of the most important sources of energy that is being used all around the world. Natural gas was first discovered in the Middle East between 6000 and 2000 BC when lightning strikes ignited natural gas. And according to apag.org, the first time humans extracted natural gas was around 500 BC, in China. The Chinese used pipes made out of bamboo, to extract it from under the Earth. However, natural gas only started being used for commercial purposes in the 1800s. [
There are many methods of extracting natural gas from beneath the surface of the Earth. Two very popular methods are, through drilling wells, and hydraulic fracturing. Drilling wells are used to extract conventional natural gas, which is a form of natural gas that is easy to retrieve. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is used to extract different types of unconventional natural gas, which are forms of natural gas that are not easy to retrieve usually because they are located deep below the surface of the Earth.
The process of fracking is a huge threat to people and the environment. The biggest impact it has on humans is the contamination of drinking water. After natural gas is extracted from under the Earth, the holes that were drilled, are sealed with fracking fluid, and there is a small chance of the fluid mixing with drinking water sources. When that happens, the contamination of water is so severe that it cannot be cleaned, even in a treatment plant, because the fracking liquid is very toxic. Ultimately affecting the health of humans, and all living creatures that depend on water for survival.
Another threat brought to us by the process of fracking, that affects the environment, is the release of methane. While natural gas is being pumped out from under the ground, some of the methane escapes into the Earth’s atmosphere. This is especially harmful, as according to Kurzgesagt- In a Nutshell, methane is 25 times more toxic than carbon dioxide. The process of fracking can also cause earthquakes. This is because every day, more and more fracking sites are being constructed, and people are drilling holes deep into the ground. These earthquakes can hardly be felt above the Earth’s surface but can damage underground pipes and cables.
Natural gas is used all around the world for multiple purposes, such as –
- Electricity – A large percentage of electricity around the world is being generated by natural gas because it is cheaper, more efficient, and produces fewer chemicals when burnt.
- Heating – Natural gas is beginning to be used for heating purposes, more than electric pumps as Heat produced from natural gas seems warmer.
- Transportation – Natural gas is also used as fuel and has been for the past 90 years. According to naturalgassolution.org, natural gas powers over 5 million vehicles today, which will continue to increase due to the increase in population, and more people realizing the benefits of using natural gas.
- Making plastic – Natural gas, alongside petroleum, is the most important resource, that is used to make plastic. Plastics are mainly produced from petrochemicals, which can be derived from Natural Gas Liquids.
Natural gas needs to be burnt for it to produce energy. According to gecf.org, when natural gas is burned, it produces fewer chemicals than other fossil fuels when burnt. When burnt, natural gas produces approximately 25% less carbon dioxide than gasoline, 27% less than fuel oil, 30% less than crude oil and 45% less than coal. It emits negligible amounts of sulfur and mercury, but it still produces a small, yet the dangerous amount of nitrogen oxide, contributing to air pollution and smog.
Natural gas is used all around the world by almost all countries. The top 5 countries that consumed the most natural gas in 2013, according to energycentral.com, are the United States of America, Russia, Iran, China, and Japan, in that specific order. The USA produced much of the world’s natural gas and distributed natural gas amongst countries like China and Japan. This is because China requires more quantities of natural gas due to its increase in population, and Japan requires more natural gas due to its goal for using more natural gas and prevent the need of having to use nuclear power, and other harmful sources of energy, especially after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in 2011.
The use of natural gas affects people more on a local scale than global, as its contributions to global problems are very small and do not have much of an effect on us. However, the problems faced by fracking, and the burning of the gas leads to multiple problems that affect only the people, and animals that live near fracking sites. For example, contamination of water bodies, and the occurrence of small earthquakes near fracking sights, only harm humans, animals, and plants in a specific area.
Although the effects of natural gas may not be so severe, it still harms our environment, and there is a lot that can be done to protect our planet. Starting with finding a new reliable, eco-friendly, and renewable/flow resource. Such as solar energy, hydro energy, wind energy, and bioenergy. These resources do not affect the environment like natural gas and other fossil fuels do, and won’t run out for a very long period of time. Along with these long term changes, there are a few things that we, as individuals can do to stop this crisis. Like use less electricity, save resources, and use public transport.
Now natural gas emissions may seem like they aren’t a big problem for our environment like most other fossil fuels are, but they aren’t negligible, as even the small amounts of chemicals that they produce, account for global warming, and as most world leaders haven’t done much to eliminate this threat, it is in our hands to protect our planet.
“What Is Natural Gas Used for? |.” The Natural Gas Solution, 13 Sept. 2017, http://naturalgassolution.org/natural-gas-used/
Brockett, Daniel. “How Plastic Is Made from Natural Gas.” Penn State Extension, 1 Sept. 2019, http://extension.psu.edu/how-plastic-is-made-from-natural-gas
“Natural Gas and the Environment.” GECF, http://www.gecf.org/gas-data/environment.aspx.
National Geographic Society. “Natural Gas.” National Geographic Society, 9 Oct. 2012, http://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/natural-gas/
“Where Is Natural Gas Mostly Used?” Where Is Natural Gas Mostly Used? | Energy Central, “Search Energy Analysis Publications.” National Energy Technology Laboratory, http://www.netl.doe.gov/energy-analysis/simple-search?search=netl&id=18&value=FE%2BPlants%2BC%26P%2BVol%2B1
“Where Is Natural Gas Mostly Used?” Where Is Natural Gas Mostly Used? | Energy Central, http://www.energycentral.com/c/gn/where-natural-gas-mostly-used
Energy, Student. “Natural Gas 101.” YouTube, YouTube, 30 June 2015, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-njmj0diWu8
Nutshell, Kurzgesagt – In a. “Fracking Explained: Opportunity or Danger.” YouTube, YouTube, 3 Sept. 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uti2niW2BRA.TED-Ed. “How Does Fracking Work? – Mia Nacamulli.” YouTube, YouTube, 13 July 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tudal_4x4F0