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Natural gas FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Need to write a report about natural gas? Or just want to know more about some aspect of natural gas that has caught your interest? You've come to the right place. Simply click on the questions below, and you'll be on your way!

  1. What's in natural gas?
    Natural gas found in the ground contains methane, ethane, propane, pentane, and traces of hexane and heptane. Gas utilities remove almost everything but the methane so the natural gas delivered to your home will burn cleanly.

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  2. Methane moleculeWhat is methane?
    Methane is a molecule made up of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. Its chemical formula is CH4.

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  3. What makes natural gas a clean fuel?
    The main products released when natural gas is burned are carbon dioxide and water vapor. Coal and oil are more chemically complex than natural gas, so when burned, they release a variety of potentially harmful chemicals into the air.

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  4. How much of our country's energy needs are served by natural gas?
    Natural gas supplies about 25% of all energy used in the United States. (Source: EIA Annual Energy Review)

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  5. Are more homes heated by natural gas or electricity?
    More homes in the U.S. are heated by natural gas than by electricity.

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  6. Where in the United States is natural gas located?
    Natural gas is found in 33 states. The dark blue states on this map show you where large amounts of natural gas are extracted. In the medium blue states, moderate amounts of natural gas are extracted. And in the light blue states, just a little natural gas is extracted. Natural gas is not extracted at all in the white states.

    United State map

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  7. How much natural gas is produced in the world?

    Natural gas is found in about 50 countries. About 3,193 billion cubic meters of natural gas was taken out of the ground and processed for use in 2010. Here is a breakdown of how much of that was produced by various countries and regions:

    • Europe and Eurasia 32.6%
    • United States 19.3%
    • Asian and Pacific Countries 15.4%
    • Middle East 14.4%
    • Africa 6.5%
    • Canada 5.0%
    • Central and South America 5%
    • Mexico 1.7%
    (Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2011)

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  8. How much natural gas do we use?
    About 3,169 billion cubic meters of natural gas was used in the world in 2010. Here is a breakdown of how much of that was used by various countries and regions:


    • Europe and Eurasia 35.8%
    • United States 21.73%
    • Asian and Pacific Countries 17.9%
    • Middle East 11.5%
    • Central and South America 4.7%
    • Africa 3.3%
    • Canada 3%
    • Mexico 2.2%
    (Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2011)

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  9. How long will our natural gas supplies last?
    If natural gas production continues throughout the world at the level it did in 2010, the world's known gas reserves are expected to last about 59 years.
    (Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2011)

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  10. Why is natural gas used to run electric power plants?
    In the 1970s and 1980s, most electric power plants were fueled by coal or nuclear power. But due to environmental concerns, by the 1990s, about 60 percent of new electric power plant capacity was fueled by natural gas. Because it is a clean-burning, competitively priced, and efficient fuel, the use of natural gas to generate electricity has increased dramatically during the last decade.
    (Source: American Gas Association)

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  11. How many miles of natural gas pipelines are there in the U.S.?
    About 2.4 million miles of underground pipelines deliver natural gas to 70 million customers in the U.S.
    (Source: American Gas Association)

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  12. When did natural gas start to become widely used in the United States?
    The first widespread use of gas energy in the United States occurred in 1816, when gaslights illuminated the streets of Baltimore, Maryland.

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  13. Why does natural gas smell like rotten eggs?
    In its natural state, natural gas has no odor. Utility companies add a chemical odorant called "mercaptan" to natural gas to help make gas leaks easier to notice. If you have a natural gas stove, you may have smelled this rotten egg odor when the pilot light has gone out.

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  14. What is "liquefied natural gas?"
    When natural gas is cooled to 260 degrees below zero, it changes from a gas into a liquid. Liquid natural gas takes up much less space than natural gas, making it easy to transport and convenient to store. Six hundred cubic feet of natural gas turns into just one cubic foot of liquid gas!

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  15. What is a "smart pig?"
    A smart pig is an electronic device that can be used to inspect the insides of natural gas pipelines. The device travels through a pipeline and transmits images of the inside of the pipeline so inspectors can tell if the pipeline needs repairs.

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  16. How fast does natural gas move through pipelines?
    Natural gas travels through high-pressure transmission pipelines at up to 30 miles per hour.

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  17. What are Natural Gas Vehicles?
    Vehicles that run on natural gas instead of gasoline are called natural gas vehicles (NGVs). There are about 110,000 NGVs on U.S. roads today and over 12 million worldwide. NGVs are a popular transportation choice because they run cleaner than other vehicles. Compared to gasoline- or diesel-powered vehicles, they produce much lower levels of pollutants and cost less to maintain. Also, natural gas costs, on average, one-third less than conventional gasoline at the pump.

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  18. Why is natural gas called "natural" gas?
    Natural gas is called "natural" because when this type of gas was first discovered, it could be used directly from the ground in its natural state, without any processing. Today, gas utilities process natural gas by removing water, sand, and other compounds so that when the gas is delivered to your home, it will burn as cleanly and efficiently as possible. And in its natural state gas has no odor. That's why gas utilities add a harmless but stinky chemical called mercaptan; the odor helps people smell a leak that otherwise, in the gas's natural state, doesn't smell.
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