Is natural gas a safe fossil fuel? Prashant Modi discusses

Coal, one of the fossil fuels.

Coal, one of the fossil fuels. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) – Prashant Modi

There’s no doubt that natural gas is one of the most eco-friendly fossil fuels. However, much like with every other energy source, its advantages and disadvantages are often the subject of debate amongst environmentalists, economists and energy tycoons. Here, Prashant Modi takes a closer look at its benefits and its shortcomings, as well as possible solutions to the latter.

Natural gas is made up primarily of methane and is the world’s lightest hydrocarbon. It’s also colourless and odourless. When burned, this fossil fuel produces huge quantities of energy which can be used for both industrial and domestic purposes, including the generating of electricity, heating and cooking. Additionally, Prashant Modi says that its one of the most economical fuels to produce and to transport.

This gas is often praised as one of the cleanest energy alternatives; the burning of it releases less pollutants than any other fuel. It emits relatively low levels of emissions such as sulphur, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, particularly in comparison to coal, and doesn’t produce any particulates such as ash which can cause health problems. Whilst it’s certainly not as clean as other energy sources such as solar or wind, and is not renewable, Prashant Modi says that its abundance, affordability and straightforward production makes it one of the most popular fossil fuels available.

But there are some critics of natural gas who say that it isn’t quite as clean as it initially appears, as some scientists have theorised that methane escapes from pipelines and wells into the atmosphere. However Prashant Modi says that there is a middle ground between these two opinions. Whilst it is true that the transportation and production of natural gas presents environmental risks, much research is being done into ways to minimise these dangers.

A liquefied natural gas tanker arrives in Bost...For instance, according to Prashant Modi, a number of energy companies are now using LNG (Liquefied natural gas), which provides them with a way to both store and transport natural gas economically, without the need for laying pipelines. Natural gas can be transformed into LNG by cooling it, and removing many of the other compounds which are present along with the methane. LNG takes up far less space than this fossil fuel in its gaseous form, and is thought to be safer and more eco-friendly.

Prashant Modi – A history of methane

Methane, also called natural gas, is an odourless, colourless and clean burning fossil fuel, which currently provides approximately 20% of the energy used in the UK.

English: Molecule of methane. Slovenščina: Mol...

Molecule of methane – Prashant Modi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Prashant Modi, a leading expert in the field of energy resources, says that methane has a number of advantages over other fossil fuels – it is easy to transport, clean and convenient to use. Methane is used for lighting homes, cooking, heating and for the general production of electricity. It also has several industrial uses.

The majority of geologists believe that methane was first formed several million years ago, when animals and plants died, and their decomposing remains were naturally deposited in the silt and mid. Over time these remains were covered over by sediment, and were then heavily compressed as a result of these sedimentary layers weighing down on them. The intense pressure and heat in the layers caused the organic materials to transform into methane and oil. Methane can be found trapped within the underground rock formations located all over the world – these include deep sea aquifers, sandstone beds, coal seams and shale formations.

Prashant Modi says that Britain was the first country in the world to use natural gas for commercial purposes. In the mid 1780s, methane sourced from coal mines was used by the British to light up streetlamps and lighthouses. America began to use this gas in the mid 19th century. In 1859, a former railroad conductor named Edwin Drake dug America’s first natural gas well. It was after Drake’s discovery of both oil and gas underground that the use of this natural energy source began to take off in the US.

Throughout most of the 19th century, methane was only used for lighting. At this point, Prashant Modi explains, no pipeline infrastructure had been built, which made it difficult to transport the gas, or to use it for things such as heating and cooking in homes. However when natural gas lights were replaced with electric lights towards the end of the century, transportation methods and more creative uses for methane were gradually developed, and over the course of the next century, the methane industry transformed into what it is today.