What is natural gas?
Natural gas is a fossil fuel like oil and coal and is sometimes referred to as methane, a colourless and odourless fossil fuel.
When microorganisms, sea plants and animals died over 300 million years ago, even before the dinosaurs, they settled on the bottom of the oceans which covered most of the earth. This decayed matter from plants and animals is called organic material – it was once alive. Over time, the soil and mud changed to rock, covered the organic material and trapped it beneath the rock.
Pressure and heat changed some of this organic material into coal, some into oil (petroleum), and some into natural gas – tiny bubbles of odourless gas.
The main component in natural gas is methane, a gas (or compound) composed of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms.
Natural gas is generally found deep underground near coal seams or oil fields. It consists mainly of methane, a hydrocarbon that is lighter than air. It is formed in a similar process to oil.
Like oil, natural gas is believed to have formed from living organisms that died millions of years ago in shallow oceans and seas. Scientists believe that as the organic matter was covered before it could decay, this allowed anaerobic bacteria, assisted by heat and pressure, to begin the process of turning it into gas and oil.
The natural gas would get trapped in pockets of underground rocks. As the earth shifted and buckled over thousands of years, it flowed through fault lines into pockets under solid rock such as granite or marble, where it was trapped and could not escape into the air above the earth's surface.
To bring natural gas to the surface, a drilling rig drills a shaft deep into the ground. The gas travels up the shaft and is transported by truck or through a pipeline to a refinery to be processed.
The refinery removes impurities from the natural gas like sulphur and compresses it for easier transportation.
From the refinery the gas travels through pipelines or is shipped by truck or ship to where it is needed. This can involve transporting the gas hundreds or even thousands of kilometres across sea and land.
Domestic and industrial uses
Natural gas is clean burning, easy to transport, convenient to use, and, in Australia, in abundant supply. It is used in many different ways, including:
• in homes for heating, hot water and cooking
• in businesses for cooking, drying and heating purposes
• for electricity generation in power stations
• for transportation as a fuel for buses and cars
• for the manufacture of fabrics, glass, steel, plastics, paint, and other products
• in the production of ammonia, for use in fertilizers
• as a portable source of energy in barbecues and for camping.
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