What is natural gas and what are its dangers?

Natural gas is a fossil fuel, just like petroleum and coal. Its composition may vary. It depends on the finding location.

Natural gas consists mainly of methane (CH4), but it can also contain small amounts of other things, such as ethane, propane, butane and nitrogen. It is found underground in its natural gaseous form, often at the same time as petroleum. It burns with little smoke and soot.Author: Manu Steens   In this post I give my own opinion, not that of any organization.

What is Natural Gas?

Natural gas is a fossil fuel. It consists of a mixture of hydrocarbons. Methane is the main component. One mainly uses it for heating, cooking, electricity generation, and transportation. It’s clean-burning. This means that few harmful substances are released. Carbon dioxide emissions are a problem, but less so than with coal and oil.

Are there multiple types of natural gas?

There are multiple types of natural gas, including:

  • Dry natural gas: This is the most common and consists mainly of methane (CH4), with less than 1% non-methane hydrocarbons and is found throughout the world.
  • Wet natural gas: Wet natural gas contains higher amounts of ethane, propane, butane, and other liquid hydrocarbons in addition to methane. It is “wet” because it contains liquid components. These condense under normal conditions (20°C, 1 bar).
  • Acidic natural gas: Acidic natural gas contains many acidic components such as hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and carbon dioxide (CO2). These are corrosive one removes them before the gas is suitable for use.
  • Associated gas: This type occurs together with petroleum. It is extracted during the extraction of petroleum. The composition depends on the characteristics of the oil field.
  • Biogas: This does not come directly from natural gas fields and is a different type of gas. It comes from anaerobic digestion of organic matter. It mainly consists of methane and carbon dioxide.

What does natural gas mean for the (environmental) sciences?

Industrial:

Steam production: One uses natural gas often as a fuel for steam boilers. It is used in many industrial processes, including power generation, chemical production, and paper and pulp industries. It is used to drive turbines in power plants or to heat plants and reactors in industry.

Heat processes: One uses natural gas to provide heat to industrial processes, such as metal smelting, glass production, bakeries, and other thermal processes. The high heat of combustion of natural gas makes it suitable for achieving the necessary high temperatures.

Chemical production: It is a raw material for the production of various chemical compounds such as ammonia, methanol, fertilizer, plastics and polymers, and other chemical products.

Electricity generation: In gas-fired power plants, as well as in industrial facilities, one uses it in gas turbines or gas turbine-combined cycle power plants to generate electricity for external or internal needs. The surplus electricity can then be fed into the grid. This is perhaps the most important application of natural gas.

Drying and sterilizing materials: In industrial drying processes, such as drying food products, paper, textiles and other materials.

Nitrogen production: It is a raw material for the production of nitrogen by nitrogen separation units. Nitrogen is important in chemical processes and as an inert gas in various applications.

Heating and cooling of buildings such as logistics units and factories. This is done with the help of gas-fired boilers, boilers and heat pumps.

Environmental science:

For environmental sciences, natural gas is an important ingredient or factor in the following areas:

Natural gas is a greenhouse gas and contributes to climate change. Carbon dioxide is released during combustion.

Combustion releases other harmful substances in addition to CO2, including the various nitrogen oxides (NOx) and carbon monoxide (CO). Nitrogen oxides contribute to the formation of smog. Carbon monoxide is a toxic and deadly gas.

Natural gas extraction pollutes the environment. Other substances are often released during extraction, including oil, water and salts. These substances are bad for the environment.

Study Topics in Environmental Science

Environmental scientists study the impact of natural gas on the environment through the following topics:

  • extraction, transport and combustion of natural gas.
  • water pollution and soil pollution.
  • possibilities to replace natural gas with other and renewable energy sources.

Burning natural gas produces less CO2 than natural gas, coal or lignite. It is an important greenhouse gas. To reduce greenhouse gases, natural gas is seen as a transitional solution to future more sustainable energy sources.

In addition to lower CO2 emissions, this combustion produces less air pollution, such as sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and fine dust, than coal, lignite and petroleum. This has less negative impact on human health.

But methane (CH4) is the main component of natural gas and is itself a strong greenhouse gas. The production, distribution, and use of natural gas lead to methane leaks. These must be kept under control.

The exploration and extraction of natural gas gives rise to habitat disturbance, soil erosion and water pollution. This is being studied to understand the impact on ecosystems and biodiversity.

Environmental science is important in the search for and evaluation of alternative energy sources and technologies for a more sustainable energy future.

The politicians use the findings of environmental scientists to develop policy. Some examples of policies include:

  • emission standards for natural gas installations.
  • mandatory leak detection systems for natural gas pipelines.
  • support the development of renewable and other alternative energy sources.

What are the risks of natural gas?

Threats

  • Fires and explosions: Natural gas is highly flammable and spreads quickly in the air. This leads to explosions or fires in the event of a spark or ignition. Even small amounts can cause serious damage, such as burning down buildings, or injuring people, animals and plants. This also applies to methane leaks.
  • Choking hazard: the gas will displace the oxygen in an enclosed space and cause suffocation. That’s why it’s important to quickly detect and correct any leak.
  • Toxic by-products: Incomplete combustion produces toxic by-products, such as carbon monoxide (CO). This is a colorless and odorless gas that can be life-threatening. It can also cause health problems such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Transportation risks: Transporting natural gas via pipelines or ships involves risks. Examples include leaks, metal fatigue and attacks by terror groups or warring parties.
  • Storage risks: When stored in underground reservoirs, there is a risk of uncontrolled release of gas, which leads to toxic clouds, or is a risk of explosion.
  • Borehole and extraction: The search for and extraction of the gas can have environmental impacts. Examples include soil erosion, water pollution, and disrupting ecosystems. Accidents during drilling activities cause leaks or blowouts.

Precautionary measures.

To reduce the dangers of natural gas, you can:

  • Perform regular maintenance on gas lines, connections, and equipment.
  • Have leaks on gas pipes or gas connections repaired immediately. After the (repair) work, check again for leaks.
  • Install a gas detector in the home or other buildings.
  • Have natural gas installations checked regularly, only by a certified installer.
  • Use only approved natural gas appliances with approved gases.
  • Make sure there is adequate ventilation when using gas appliances.
  • Avoid fire and ignition sources when using gas.
  • Being aware of what to do and what not to do in the event of a gas leak:
    • Leave the room immediately and close the doors and windows.
    • Turn off the main supply.
    • Call the emergency number, mention the gas leak.
    • Wait for the emergency services.
    • Never attempt to repair the leak yourself.
    • Avoid fire or other sources of heat. Don’t smoke.
    • Do not turn electrical appliances on or off. This can cause a spark.
    • Do not attempt to trace the leak. Leave this to the emergency services.

Conclusion

Natural gas has future prospects. The demand for natural gas in industry and for private use will continue to grow in the future. This is due to the growing need for electricity, due to a growing world population that needs more and more chemical products.

Natural gas is therefore an important source of energy, but it has limited supplies. Therefore, it is important to look for alternative energy sources, including renewable ones.

However, the use of natural gas causes problems for the environment. Examples include carbon dioxide (CO2), which contributes to climate change. Although the search for cleaner alternatives and solutions has begun, including carbon dioxide capture and storage technologies, we do not yet have definitive solutions.

Question to the reader:

Do you have experience with gas leaks (professional or private), and how did you handle it?

Manu Steens

Manu works at the Flemish Government in risk management and Business Continuity Management. On this website, he shares his own opinions regarding these and related fields. Since 2012, he has been working at the Crisis Centre of the Flemish Government (CCVO), where he has progressed in BCM, risk management, and crisis management. Since August 2021, he has been a knowledge worker for the CCVO. As of January 2024, he works at the Department of Chancellery and Foreign Affairs of the Flemish Government. Here, he combines BCM, risk management, and crisis management to create a tailored form of resilience management to meet the needs of the Flemish Government.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts