Natural gas is one of the most important energy sources in the world. As the name suggests it is a naturally occurring gas containing mostly methane with some other hydrocarbons and impurities. Natural gas is a fossil fuel and is often found underground along with other fossil fuels, such as oil and coal. It is extracted much the same way as oil and is often obtained as a byproduct of this process. After extraction it undergoes processing to remove the impurities and clean the gas. It is commonly used for heating, cooking, electricity generation, as a vehicle fuel and for a variety of commercial and manufacturing uses. Let’s take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of this fossil fuel.
Advantages of natural gas
- Natural gas is considered to be environmentally friendly because it is clean burning and very efficient. It releases 30% less carbon dioxide than burning oil and 45% less than burning coal. It also has far lower emissions of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and mercury than other fossil fuels. It also produces far less smog-producing pollutants and doesn’t produce soot or ash when burned.
- It is cheaper than many other sources of energy and a natural gas installation for a home or business is also relatively inexpensive.
- It has a high heating value of approximately 17,500-24,000 British Thermal Units (BTU) per pound. This compares favorably with many other common fuels such as coal (8,000-14,000 BTU per pound) and wood (6,000 BTU per pound). The BTU of natural gas, gasoline and diesel is very similar, but natural gas costs less and offers improved environmental benefits over these fuels.
- As well as being efficient and having a high heating value, it also provides very fast heating.
- Natural gas can be easily transported and safely stored with minimal risk. It can also be directly piped into homes for cooking and heating purposes.
- Natural gas is non-toxic if inhaled in small amounts and is lighter than air so it will dissipate fairly quickly in the event of a leak.
Disadvantages of natural gas
- Natural gas may be the cleanest fossil fuel, but it does still contribute to the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.
- Natural gas is not a renewable source of energy and reserves of the gas will eventually run out. The extraction of natural gas from under the Earth also creates cavities, which are believed to occasionally cause ground sinkage.
- The gas is highly flammable, which means that a serious leak or accident can be very dangerous. Natural gas is odorless, tasteless and colorless and must be treated with a strong odor to help people detect leaks.
- Natural gas can produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide gas in some circumstances, particularly in damaged or incorrect home installations or appliances. This gas can be deadly and impossible for a human to detect. However, this is a very low risk of using natural gas and the risk can be lessened with a carbon monoxide detector.
- As a vehicle fuel natural gas (not to be confused with gasoline which is also called gas) is cheaper, but provides less mileage than gasoline or diesel.