Our Industry :: Natural Gas History
Natural Gas Industry History
From its humble beginnings in human history as an almost entirely overlooked substance leaking from the ground, natural gas has grown exponentially in value and use to an important energy source in modern society.
The common theory holds that natural gas, like petroleum, originates from decomposing plants and animals buried under layers of sediment and put under enormous pressure and heat. Natural gas and oil are often found in the same deposits— the deeper the deposit, the higher the temperature and the more gas, rather than oil, is present.
While natural gas, composed mostly of methane mixed with other hydrocarbons such as propane and butane, takes millions of years to form under the Earth’s surface, its potential as a source of clean-burning energy has only been usefully harnessed for the past several hundred.
Around 500 B.C., bamboo pipes were used to transport methane-rich gas leaking from the ground for use in boiling and purifying seawater in China. The eighteenth century saw the commercialization of natural gas in Britain for use in lighting, and in 1816 a less efficient and environmentally friendly artificial gas was used in Baltimore, Maryland.
Through most of the nineteenth century, natural gas was unsafe for use in cooking or heating and was mainly burned as a source of light. However, as electricity became more popular for this purpose, marketers faced the problem of finding new uses for the gas.
In 1885, Robert Bunsen delivered a solution in the form of what would come to be called the Bunsen burner, which allowed natural gas to be burned in a safe proportion for temperature regulation.
Even with the new developments for the uses of natural gas, the problem of how to transport it efficiently over large distances remained unsolved. The first long pipeline, 120 miles, was built between Indiana and Chicago in 1891. However, major construction of long pipelines did not occur until after World War II when developments in welding and rolling techniques created a boom in natural gas pipeline construction and installation that lasted nearly 20 years.
Now, natural gas is used for temperature regulation, manufacturing and heating boilers to generate electricity.
Most natural gas is piped up from deposits of methane trapped in formations of sedimentary rock, though there are other sources as well. Microorganisms near the Earth’s surface in areas with no oxygen also produce methane— they can even be found in the human digestive tract. Methods for harvesting landfills for methane have also been developed.
Once it has been collected, natural gas is refined to remove extraneous gases, some of which can be sold for other uses. “Dry” gas is almost entirely methane, while “wet” gas contains other hydrocarbons.
After being processed to standard, natural gas enters the market as a commodity to be bought from producers by marketers and sold to local distribution companies, pipelines, factories, directly to homes or even to other producers.
Marketing is a relatively new aspect to the natural gas industry, which was limited by government price regulations from 1938 until gas shortages in the 1970’s and 80’s led to gradual de-regulation.
Natural gas can be stored indefinitely and transported through the thousands of miles of pipelines networked across the U.S. to end as the flame in a stove-top or the power source of an entire manufacturing plant.
SWE’s goal is to seek out quality business, while building long-term mutually beneficial relationships with each customer.
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