Natural gas refers to a fossil fuel that is mainly used as a source of energy for both domestic and commercial purposes. Energy from natural gas is mainly used for cooking, heating, and electricity generation. There are instances also when natural gas is also used as a fuel for automobiles and as a chemical material in the production of plastics including a variety of other commercially critical organic chemicals. The conversion of the fossil fuel natural gas into usable fossil fuel is an intricate activity that comprises of a variety of distinctive process, which includes extraction, processing, transportation, and finally utilization. Moreover, there are various advantages and challenges that characterize each distinctive process.
According to Gerbec, (2010), exploration expeditions and researchers have long identified that natural shale gas deposits are plentiful in most parts of the world including America. However, one of the underlying challenges pertains to the cumbersome process of finding and extracting it as it normally exists deep within the earth’s crust. The process of identifying the feasible deposits and extracting them is highly capital intensive, which acts as a major prohibitive factor for most investors. Also associated with the capital intensive nature of the extraction process, it is possible to identify natural shale gas deposits deep beneath the earth’s surface and later find that the extraction process is not feasible since the cost of extracting it is higher than the associated revenue gained from its sale. Corbeau, (2010), highlights that there are however, a variety of advantages or rather opportunities that are associated with its extraction. One of the opportunities to its exploration is based on the more than thirty years of intensive research and development by the government and other interested parties that has resulted in technological advances that have made it easier to explore and extract the commodity.
Mokhatab, Poe, and Speight, (2006), posits that natural gas processing refers to a highly complex industrial process that serves to purify raw natural gas through the separation of impurities and a variety of non-methane hydrocarbons and fluids to end up with pipeline quality dry natural gas. One of the major challenges facing the natural gas processing industry is that the industry is dominated by old firms whose historical gas plant configurations are out of line with the current world’s rich gas plays. A majority of the traditional processing plants lack the modernized deep-cut (or ethane/light NGL processing) equipment. As a result, the processing phase ends up producing pipeline gas stream that contains higher levels of methane that generally shows at the export straddle plants. Moreover, the industry is experiencing a significant decrease in the production of pentane-plus, flattening of butane and ethane, while there is a rapid increase in the production of propane. On the other hand, there are various advantages and opportunities that are associated with the processing of natural gas. One of the overarching advantages to the processing process of natural gas is based on its comparison with the processing of other forms of fossil fuels such as crude oil. Bryfonski and Thomson Gale (Firm). (2015), argues that the processing of natural gas is considered less capital intensive in comparison to the processing crude oil. As a consequence, the processing plants are able to accrue higher profit margins in comparison to the crude oil processing plants. Moreover, the entire process is normally conducted in one firm while that of crude oil takes place at different sites. For the processing of crude oil, the initial processing activity takes place at the extraction site where contaminants are removed from the extracted product to form the crude oil. The crude oil is then transported in its raw form to the destination sites where it is then processed again to obtain the various distinctive products of crude oil such as petroleum, kerosene, and other products. Additionally, technological advancements have also facilitated the design and production of highly efficient processing techniques and equipment such as the modernized deep-cut (or ethane/light NGL processing) equipment that produces pipeline gas stream that is of high quality.
The process of transporting natural gas plays the vital role of ensuring that the commodity is safely transferred from the processing location to the place of consumption. Unlike many physical commodities, natural gas occurs in a highly flammable and complex state that requires the transporting parties to take many aspects into concern. Typically, natural gas is mainly transported in a highly compressed form that normally results in its liquidation hence the common term, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). The efficient, effective, and safe movement of natural gas from the processing area to the consumption locations requires an extensive and intricate transport system. Typically, the processing locations are normally located in remote areas and hence requiring the transportation of the commodity through great distances to reach the destination point. The transportation system normally comprises of an intricate network of pipelines that are designed to transport the commodity in a quick and efficient manner. Moreover, the network is strategically linked to storage sites to ensure that in case the supply exceeds the existing demand, the excess is stored in an appropriate manner for future use. One of the major disadvantages or challenges that plague the transportation of natural gas is the delicate and flammable nature of the product in comparison to other sources of energy such as the installation of solar panels at the site of use. As a result, the transportation demands the installation of a variety of key features such as leak detection mechanisms, conducting regular aerial patrols, and the use of pipeline markers. In contrast with the flammable nature of the product, the underlying advantage in the transportation of natural gas is that the transportation system is considered one of the safest ways of transporting energy. Natural gas is transported through an infrastructure that comprises of interconnected pipelines that are fixed and buried below the surface of the earth. Reports by the Department of Transportation (DoT) indicate that the use of the use of pipelines is the safest means of transporting natural gas and petroleum. For instance, statistics indicate that approximately 100 deaths were associated with the electric transmission lines. However, the DoT indicates that zero deaths were associated with the transport of natural gas through the pipeline system while only ten deaths were attributable to the distribution system for the same year.
Natural gas is normally used for a wide range of purposes including both for domestic use and commercial use. Energy obtained from the commodity is used for cooking, heating, and electricity generation in addition to fueling automobiles and in the plastic and organic chemical industries. Rowell, (2013), argues that one of the main advantages to using natural gas is that it tops other fuels as far as clean burning is concerned. The combustion process of natural gas is highly efficient and consequently disseminating minimal levels of by products to the environment. Moreover, technological advancements have greatly resulted in the decrease of nitrogen oxide, which is one of the major pollutants associated with natural gas. The blue flame resulting from the combustion of natural gas as it burns serves as a clear indication that it burns perfectly. Additionally, the clean combustion of the gas implies that it does not leave ash and soot that are normally an eyesore on the cooking items including bad odors. The use of natural gas for both domestic and commercial use implies that the consumer does not have to install storage tanks in addition to preventing the risk of oil spills, soil contamination, and the costly cleanup of the environment in the event of contamination. However, the use of natural gas is a risky affair since the product is highly combustible
Discussion and Conclusion
Conducting a comprehensive literature review indicates that the production and consumption of natural gas is a highly complex endeavor that involves the distinctive processes of extraction, processing, transportation, and finally utilization. Each process has its own distinctive advantages and disadvantages in comparison to other sources of energy. For the case of extraction the main disadvantage is that it is capital intensive. However, the technological advances offer a significant opportunity that it will be much easier to explore and extract the commodity. For the case of processing, the older and established firms are yet to acquire the highly modernized equipment rendering the end products to be of low quality. However, the modern equipment make it possible to produce pipeline gas stream that is of high quality. For the case of transportation, the flammable and gaseous nature of the commodity requires a capital intensive and complex transportation and distribution infrastructure. On the other hand, the existing pipelines are considered the safest means of transporting energy. In terms of consumption, natural gas is considered one of the cleanest in comparison to the use of crude oil. However, the commodity is fairly expensive and hence above the reach of a number of consumers.
Bryfonski, D., & Thomson Gale (Firm). (2015). Natural gas. Farmington Hills, Mich: Greenhaven Press, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning.
Corbeau, A.-S. (January 01, 2010). Natural Gas in India. Paris: OECD Publishing.
Gerbec, M. (January 01, 2010). Case study: Reliability analysis of natural-gas pressure-regulating istalation. Reliability, Risk and Safety, 1121-1128.
Mokhatab, S., Poe, W. A., & Speight, J. G. (2006). Handbook of natural gas transmission and processing. Burlington, MA: Gulf Professional Pub.
Rowell, R. (2013). Natural gas. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Cherry Lake Publishing.
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