Where Does Natural Gas Come From?

Natural gas is a resource that many homes use and as a fossil fuel, can be mined in many different ways. In this blog post, we discuss how natural gas is formed and the many different sources natural gas is mined today.

How Is Natural Gas Made?

Natural gas, like other fossil fuels, is formed underground from decomposing plants, animals, and microorganisms that are covered by layers of soil and sediment. Over millions of years, the organic matter is compressed and subjected to higher and higher temperatures as it moves closer to the Earth’s crust. This process causes carbon bonds to break down and produces thermogenic methane or natural gas.

This is not the only way natural gas is made, however. Methanogens living in the intestines of animals and low-oxygen areas. The process by which methanogens that can break down organic material into biogenic methane is called methanogenesis.

Different Sources of Natural Gas

“Conventional gas” refers to natural gas that is economical to extract and easily accessible. Natural gas reservoirs can be found in Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and in Alaska. In addition, there are several “unconventional” sources of natural gas as well. In addition to conventional gas, the following are different ways in which natural gas is mined.

Shale Gas

Shale is a fine-grained sedimentary rock and the fastest growing resource of natural gas in the world today. Natural gas may be found sandwiched between two layers of shale rock and there are two major ways to access it: hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling. Advances into both fracking and horizontal drilling technology have made it easier to access natural gas deposits.

As of 2011, more than 39% of the U.S.’s natural gas supply comes from shale deposits, mostly found in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania.

Coalbed Methane

Natural gas can also be extracted from coal deposits. Gas, called coalbed methane, collects in otherwise inaccessible coal seams. Historically, coalbed methane was vented out of mines as a waste product. Today, they are collected as energy using extraction methods similar to shale extracting: well drilling and hydraulic fracking.

In 2017, coalbed methane production was equal to about 4% of total U.S. dry natural gas production.

Methane Hydrates

Methane hydrates are an unconventional natural gas source. Methane molecules trapped in a cage of water molecules and occur as crystalline solids in arctic regions or below the floor of the deep ocean.

Methane hydrates are the most abundant unconventional natural gas source and it is estimated that it could contain twice the amount of carbon than all of the coal, oil, and conventional natural gas in the world, combined. While there is so much potential energy stored in methane hydrates, because they are fragile geological formations and have the potential to affect the environmental conditions around them, the development of extraction methods are approached with extreme care.

Tight Gas

Tight gas is an unconventional source referring to natural gas trapped within impermeable rock formations. Due to inaccessibility, extraction usually necessitates difficult and expensive methods such as fracking or acidizing.

Acidizing refers to the process of injecting acid (usually hydrochloric acid) into the natural gas well. The acid dissolves the rock and allows access to the natural gas contained within it.

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