Back to Basics: Nat Gas 101

As kids across the country climb the steps of their school buses and meet their new teachers, it’s time to go back to Nat Gas School, too. Let’s sharpen our pencils and open our textbooks to learn the basics and understand what makes natural gas the most reliable and efficient fuel source.

🔎 Where does natural gas come from?

Much of the natural gas we find and use today began as microscopic plants and animals living in shallow marine environments millions of years ago. As living organisms, they absorbed energy from the sun, which was stored as carbon molecules in their bodies. When they died, they sank to the bottom of the sea and were covered by layer after layer of sediment. As this organic feedstock became buried deeper in the earth, heat, combined with the pressure of compaction, converted some of the biomaterial into natural gas.

🔬 What is natural gas made of?

Natural gas is composed of four hydrogen atoms and one carbon atom (CH4 or methane) and is colorless and odorless in its natural state. When it burns, natural gas produces mostly carbon dioxide, water vapor and small amounts of nitrogen oxides.

📐 How is natural gas measured?

Natural gas, like other forms of heat energy, is measured in British thermal units or Btu. One Btu is equivalent to the heat needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.

But most natural gas bills measure gas in therms, which is a unit of heating equal to 103,200 Btu. To put this in perspective, 10 therms of natural gas is about enough to meet the natural gas needs of an average home — space heating, water heating, cooking, etc. — for five days.

💡 When did we start using natural gas?

Natural gas was first used in the U.S. in 1816, when gaslights illuminated the streets of Baltimore, Maryland. 2021 marks 200 years of natural gas production in the United States! Natural gas production began in 1821 and by 1900, natural gas had been discovered in 17 states. Today, natural gas is used extensively in residential, commercial and industrial applications and is the main source of fuel used for home heating.

🚘 When was America’s pipeline infrastructure constructed?

Today, America’s natural gas utilities manage a 2.6-million-mile distribution system that helps deliver reliable natural gas across the country. That’s about equivalent to the 2.9 million miles of paved road in the United States. The expansion of this system began in the years following World War II.

📚 How does natural gas fuel back-to-school?

Beyond our homes and energy systems, natural gas is used to produce lots of things we use every single day. School supplies like backpacks, binders, and calculators are all produced using natural gas.

Natural gas is used to help produce other items we use every day, including medical supplies like personal protective equipment and syringes, along with home essentials like TVs.