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.
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.