Every time we turn on a washing machine or stove, or check the water heater to make sure the temperature is set, we probably don't give thought to what powers the things that bring convenience to our lives. Many homeowners may think electricity runs the show, but for many it is natural gas that keeps the lights glowing and the fires burning.
Quick Facts About the Industry
- Refined, it burns cleanly, and is mined from the ground through a process called "fracking." Here rock layers in the earth are fractured to release the gas for extraction.
- According to the Natural Gas Caucus, natural gas accounts for powering nearly a quarter of the electricity and power vehicles in the United States. The International Energy Agency reports that natural gas represents about twenty-two percent of global energy in use.
- Natural gas is one of the most versatile power resources in the world, and produces less emissions than other fuels.
- Pacific Gas and Electric Company reports that of the natural gas used annually, the United States and Russia combined use roughly half.
Top Exporters and Importers
Each year, over seven hundred billion cubic meters of this fuel are exported around the world. The World Factbook currently lists the following countries as the lead exporters:
- Russia - Russia is home to some of the largest reserves in the world. A good percentage of their output is sent to Europe to power heat and electricity.
- Canada - The United States is perhaps Canada's largest customer when it comes to this resource, as nearly all of the US's natural gas imports come from their northern neighbors.
- Norway - Norway's major partners in this trade include Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Belgium. Sales over the last two decades have more than doubled, according to the Norweigan Petroleum Directorate.
- Algeria - Algeria exports almost exclusively petroleum and gas. The United States, Spain, and Canada rank among their top trade partners.
- Qatar - The bulk of Qatar's national revenues comes from sales of gas extracted from their reserves. Japan and Korea rank among their largest trade partners.
The CIA World Factbook lists the United States, Germany, Japan, Italy and France among the top importers of this resource. Collectively, they take in over four hundred billion cubic meters annually.
Challenges in the Industry
While this fuel is considered a cleaner burning fuel than most resources, environmentalists are concerning that the method of extracting this resource - fracking - may do more harm than good in the future. Researchers from Cornell University have proposed that in the next twenty years, methane released during fracking into the atmosphere could contribute to problems associated with global warming. Some have even contributed pollution and earthquakes to this activity, and protests against fracking have increased in recent months. Experts in the natural gas industry, however, have dismissed such claims that extraction is endangering the planet.
As more states and countries approve of extraction, one may find the percentage of use growing in the future. Natural gas not only powers homes and plants, but some makes of automobiles and vehicles operate on this fuel. As the diversity of usage grows, so does the probability of this resource becoming a highly valuable export.