Across the country, Americans are relying less on fossil fuels like coal and petroleum, and more on a different kind of fuel – natural gas. One of the main reasons for this surge is that natural gas, while still a fossil fuel, is highly available. When combined with ever-evolving revolutionary technology, the sheer quantity of natural gas in the United States provides an excellent (and affordable) energy resource. As a result, natural gas now constitutes an enormous percentage of the American energy industry.
Where Natural Gas Comes From
Almost all natural gas consumed in the United States is extracted and produced in our country, and Canada provides most of the rest. According to the American Gas Association, 33 states now produce natural gas, with Alaska leading the way. There are enormous quantities of gas under the North Slope region of our northernmost state. However, this supply will remain unused until a natural gas pipeline is built. Potential reserves like this one exist all over the nation.
The benefits of natural gas are many. As the most energy efficient fossil fuel, in terms of extraction and distribution, it has become a primary source of energy, with an outstanding safety record documented along the entirety of the multi-million mile underground delivery system.
Much of our natural gas supply is trapped within sedimentary rocks. Shale gas is the most abundant – and probably the most important – source of technically recoverable natural gas, according to research from the Energy Information Administration. “Technically recoverable” refers to high existing reserves that can be accessed with the right technology.
Converting Gas into Energy
In the past, natural gas was mainly used for heating and cooking purposes, but recent technology has made it a viable option for mass generation of electricity. Natural gas powers fuel cells, which use electrochemical reactions to generate electrical energy instead of traditional fossil fuel combustion.
Within the cells, pure hydrogen gas is used as fuel while pure oxygen is used as an oxidant. The result is a cleaner production of electricity with fewer greenhouse gas emissions; the only real byproducts of natural gas electricity are water and heat.
When combined with natural gas turbines, fuel cell generation facilities operate at 70 percent efficiency in the 1 to 20 Megawatt range – a much higher rate than with oil and coal.
The Advancement of Energy Technology
The natural gas industry has become one of the most technically advanced in the United States, with major innovations in both exploration and production. With specialty software, longer and smoother drill holes, self-adjusting computer sensors, and far-reaching underground wells, these processes have become safer, more efficient, and better for the environment.
Even natural gas deposits from “unconventional” shale rock formations can be efficiently extracted and converted to energy with minimal harm to the environment, which has resulted in an increase of 39 percent in available natural gas resources in the United States.
For Americans, natural gas is becoming one of the most viable means of energy, especially when it comes to cost. While the price of crude oil remains stable, the price of natural gas has been dropping. Reports also show that the abundance of gas in the United States could lead to our country becoming a major contributor to the global energy market. Gas prices will likely remain stable, regardless of our status as an exporter of natural gas.
What This Means for Us
Now, with government agencies and the scientific community focusing on coming up with new technologies and methods, costs are decreasing, while production is on the rise. For the government and the general population, natural gas has major potential staying power. Traditional means of generating electricity have never been more efficient.