Natural gas is a nonrenewable fossil fuel that is composed of several different gases, with methane making up the biggest portion. Formed millions of years ago from decaying animals and plants that heat and pressure built into thick layers, natural gas is found in sedimentary basins throughout the world. It contains no poisonous ingredients and dissipates rapidly when released into the air. The usage of natural gas as a fuel in the United States helps to reduce dependence on foreign oil and is better for air and water quality than other energy sources.
Natural gas was discovered and transported by the ancient Chinese in 600 B.C. Confucius wrote of piping natural gas from wells through bamboo rods. William Hart dug America's first natural gas well in Fredonia, New York, in 1821. Mr. Hart's work led to the formation of the first natural gas company in America. Natural gas was discovered in 17 states by 1900, and thousands of pipelines were built to transport the gas by the 1950s. Over the next 20 years, natural gas was discovered in 33 states, and its use became widespread in the United States.
Natural gas is found in approximately 50 countries, with 38 percent of reserves located in the former Soviet Union and 35 percent in the Middle East. The United States produces 22 percent of the total world production, mainly for use within its own borders. Canada, the United Kingdom, Algeria, Indonesia, Iran, the Netherlands, Norway and Uzbekistan account for 86 percent of total world production. Roughly a quarter of the world's energy consumption comes from natural gas, and 26 percent of what is produced is traded internationally.
During the19th century, natural gas was used primarily as fuel for streetlights. Today, more than 70 percent of homes use natural gas for heating, cooking and clothes drying. Natural gas is also used in approximately 2 million automobiles worldwide as fuel. Commercially, it is used in waste treatment, incineration, dehumidification, glass melting and preheating metals. Roughly 22 percent of the United States energy consumption comes from natural gas.
With uses in nearly every sector, natural gas is one of the most versatile forms of energy and is available in abundance domestically and worldwide. Using natural gas can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, smog and acid rain, as it is environmentally sound, being the cleanest burning fossil fuel and emitting the lowest levels of harmful byproducts. Natural gas is also one of the most reliable sources of energy since it is produced domestically and is resistant to weather-related outages since it is transported through underground pipelines.
Natural gas is described as the cleanest fossil fuel, and with U.S. President Barack Obama's call during his 2008 presidential campaign for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, its use is expected to grow even more in the future. Vehicles powered by natural gas are an excellent way to clean up emissions from the transportation sector. Countless people in the energy industry believe that as the demand for electricity increases in the future, natural gas will play an even bigger role in electricity production.