what is the natural gas?

What Does Natural gas Mean

We explain what natural gas is, its composition, uses and other characteristics. In addition, its environmental impact and nature reserves.

Natural gas is one of the most exploited fuels in the world.

what is the natural gas?

Natural gas is a highly flammable gaseous hydrocarbon , the result of a mixture of light gases of natural origin, mostly alkanes. It is one of the most exploited fuels in the world, extracted from the subsoil in deposits similar (and sometimes even in the same place) to oil tankers.


Its origin is geological , like oil : diverse organic matter of vegetable and animal origin that was trapped for millions of years in the subsoil, subjected to conditions of intense heat and pressure . Thus, the chemical energy contained in matter is transferred to the gas, making it highly energetic.

Its discovery dates from 6000 to 2000 years before our era , in the territory of what is now Iran, and in the Baku region of what is now Azerbaijan. In fact, the first natural gas leaks, possibly ignited by lightning accidentally, gave rise to the "everlasting fires" worshiped by ancient Persian religions .

However, it was in ancient China where the first extraction well for this resource was dug , about 150 meters deep; a titanic work carried out with bamboo tools and primitive drills around 211 BC. C .

Natural gas is a fossil fuel and therefore is a non-renewable natural resource on our planet .

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Composition of natural gas

In addition to methane and ethane, it can contain light gases such as butane and propane.

Natural gas is a mixture of hydrocarbons . It is composed mainly of methane (CH 4 ) and ethane (C 2 H 6 ) , although it can also contain quantities of light gases such as butane (C 4 H 10 ) and propane (C 3 H 8 ), especially when it is diluted in oil. (that is, in the same field, the so-called “associated natural gas”).

In addition, it can contain traces of other compounds and elements , such as carbon dioxide , nitrogen, hydrogen sulfide or helium.

Natural gas has a composition similar to that of biogas, generated by the anaerobic digestion of organic matter by microorganisms . However, it is vastly more powerful than this one.

Characteristics of natural gas

Natural gas is accumulated in underground reservoirs.

Natural gas has the following characteristics:

  • It is of fossil origin (organic) and is accumulated in underground deposits.
  • It is composed of a gaseous mixture of light hydrocarbons , such as saturated paraffins.
  • It is highly flammable , potentially toxic and very versatile in its use.
  • It is usually odorless once the sulfur residues have been eliminated, so some trace of mercaptans are added later to give it a characteristic odor and to be able to identify its presence.

Natural gas reserves

Although its extraction began en masse in the 19th century, current estimates in 2017 (according to the British Petroleum company ) pointed to the remaining 193.5 trillion cubic meters of natural gas in the world .

According to these estimates, current production can be sustained consecutively for a further 55 years. Most of the reserves are located in the Middle East (43%, especially in Iran and Qatar) and Central Asia (31%, especially in Russia and Turkmenistan).

Uses and applications of natural gas

Natural gas is used in vehicles such as LNG or CNG.

Given its very high caloric yield and its versatile nature, natural gas is used today to:

  • District heating and ignition of boilers or industrial furnaces.
  • Electricity production in high-performance power plants.
  • Vehicular fuel , in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG) or compressed natural gas (CNG), especially in public or long-distance transport.
  • Manufacture of chemical materials , such as pigments, fertilizers, preservatives, additives, or chemical compounds to feed the chemical and pharmaceutical industry .

Advantages and disadvantages of natural gas

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Natural gas is much easier to extract and transport than oil.

On the one hand, the advantages of natural gas have to do with its relative abundance: it is much easier to get than oil , and much easier to extract, too.

On the other hand, it is easy to transport once liquefied, with a low risk of accidents if the appropriate measures are taken, both by land and by sea . In addition, due to its enormous caloric yield , and its lower emission of greenhouse gases such as CO 2 (compared to other fossil hydrocarbons), natural gas is a very advantageous fuel.

However, although it pollutes less than oil or other hydrocarbons, it is also polluting. Therefore, one of its disadvantages is that the CO 2 resulting from its combustion contributes to the greenhouse effect and global warming , changing the climate and threatening the sustainability of life on the planet as we know it.

On the other hand, its caloric yield is not as high as that of oil , nor is it a source of so many usable chemical elements, since it is a much lighter type of hydrocarbon.

Environmental impact of natural gas

Like any other fossil fuel, the exploitation of natural gas has a considerable ecological cost. On the one hand, its extraction requires excavation and land removal , which also has a local geological and erosive impact.

In addition, the leaks of gases such as methane in gas fields represent a strong and dangerous atmospheric pollutant , 23 times more harmful than CO 2 for the greenhouse effect.

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