A simple explanation of natural gas formation

natural gasHave you ever wondered where we get natural gas and how it was formed in the first place? Read on! The U.S. Department of Energy has explained the entire process in layman’s terms.

The main ingredient is methane, which is a gas or compound composed of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. Millions of years ago, the decayed remains of plants and animals began building up in thick layers. Over time, sand and silt changed to rock and covered the organic remains, trapping it beneath the rock. Pressure and heat changed some of the organic material into coal, some into oil (petroleum) and some into tiny bubbles of odorless natural gas. 

But wait, you’re may be thinking, why does natural gas have an odor today? Before it’s distributed, a chemical called mercaptan is added. This gives it a distinct, unpleasant odor that makes the gas smell like rotten eggs. They do this as a safety precaution to be able to detect possible leaks.

Geologists use seismic surveys to find the right places to drill for natural gas. Seismic surveys use echoes from a vibration source at the earth’s surface to collect information about the rocks beneath. If the site seems promising, drilling commences.

Did you know that most of the natural gas consumed in the United States is produced here? Another interesting fact: We now use machines called “digesters” to turn organic material (plants, animal waste, etc.) into natural gas. This means we no longer have to wait millions of years for the gas to form on its own.