What Is Natural Gas?

What is natural gas? There is no natural smell to natural gas. Mercaptan is implemented to aid in the detection of Natural Gas release. Natural gas is all around us and is used on a daily basis for energy...

Natural gas is all around us and is used on a daily basis for energy purposes. It is the most useful source of energy, and its purpose is to provide energy to power generations, vehicles that use it as a fuel, residential domestic use and as fertilizer.


Natural gas is colorless, odorless and combustible. "When natural gas is first pulled out of the ground in its natural state, it does not smell," says Ray Gonzalez, who is the manager of Safety and Regulation Compliance at Texas Gas Service in Austin, Texas. He has more than 20 years of experience in the gas industry. "After the gas is processed and it is ready to be sold, they have to add a chemical by the name of methyl mercaptan."




The gas industry adds the chemical methyl mercaptan to the compound to resemble the smell of rotting cabbage. This is done so a person can detect the smallest release of unburned Natural Gas. When the chemical compound was added as an odorant to natural gas in 1937 it was to prevent another explosion. The New London School Explosion killed 300 students and faculty after the buildup of gas in the school went unnoticed.

"If gas is smelled and you cannot detect the source of leakage, then leave the house immediately," says Gonzalez. "Do not turn on any appliances to avoid igniting the gas. Call the gas company to eradicate the problem as soon as the house is left."

When natural gas burns it emits lower levels of potentially harmful by-products into the air. Energy is everywhere and is used in homes to cook, heat and generate electricity. It is this need for energy that makes natural gas such an important element in our daily lives. According to Natural Gas.org, the gas is formed primarily of methane, and can include ethane, propane, butane and pentane. The gas that is used to cook or heat a home is pure methane. The website says that methane is a molecule that is made up of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms.

Natural gas is fossil fuel that is composed of the remains of plants and animals, and microorganisms that lived millions of years ago. It is usually found underneath the surface of the earth. It is brought into the air by drilling a hole through the impermeable rock. Then it is transferred into pipelines that send it to distributors, like your gas company, which then transfer it to the consumer. According to the American Gas Association, it is one of the cheapest forms of energy available to the residential consumer. "In fact, natural gas has historically been much cheaper than electricity as a source of energy."

Seventy percent of single-family homes in 2003 used natural gas heating, followed by 27 percent that used electric heat, and two percent that used heating oil.

"When natural gas is brought into a home, the gas should burn as a blue fame with a small yellowish part," says Gonzalez. "Then, right at the tip you will see a little orange." If not, and the gas is an entirely different color, call your local gas company to determine if gas is leaking or is not burning properly.

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