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Advantages and Problems associated with Natural Gas Production Cycle

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Advantages and Problems associated with Natural Gas Production Cycle

Introduction

Natural gas is a naturally occurring hydrocarbon gas with a larger percentile of the composition being methane with traces of other alkanes and gases. It is a form of fossil fuel formed as a result of decomposition of plants and animal matter found buried under the earth’s surface for millions of years until exposure to intense heat and pressure turn them into fossil fuel and stored in chemical bonds (Abbott 23). The gas is afterwards harnessed and used for various purposes such as cooking in form of cooking gas, and for electricity generation. Natural gas is colourless and odorless, and the smell that is associated with gas leaks occurs after an odorization process for safety purposes. The extraction, processing, transportation and the usage of the natural gas have been marred with a lot of criticism with environmentalists maintaining that the whole process is harmful to the environment and over time causes adverse effects that include global warming. Methane has mainly been termed as a clean-burning source of energy. The amounts that escape into the air, though negligible have worse environmental effects including carbon dioxide, which is blamed for global warming. While the extraction of the natural gas is essential to the economy for its immeasurable benefits, they are both benefits and problems that are associated with the entire process from exploration to utilization both for domestic and economic purposes.

Extraction

Natural gas, being a fossil fuel, is located below the earth’s surface and as such, exploration to find the gases has to take place. In recent years, the exploration process has been made easier by ingenious technology that applies different methods to locate natural gas reservoirs. Once a potential deposit for the natural gas is found, the extraction process begins, which involves engaging a team of geologists and geophysicist to spearhead the drilling of fissures into the earth’s surface to where the gas is presumed to be. Seeing as the gas can be located underneath the earth’s surface or seabed, the drilling of wells therefore, is onshore or offshore. In the event, the well drilled has the gas it is referred to as a productive well and as such, is earmarked for the production of the gas into a safe product (Mohsenin). The most common ways of safely extracting the gas are hydraulic fracturing referred to as fracking and horizontal drilling. The gas is then transported for production. The extraction process is complicated as it involves pumping the gas up to the surface where it is separated from any oil remnants and piped to a processing plant near the wells.

Processing and Transportation

Once a well has been discovered to have commercially viable amounts of gas deposits, and the gas has been transported, the processing phase begins. Depending on where the gas has been extracted from, there could be the presence of oil deposits.Most reservoirs, especially in the US, are located away from oil deposits, which makes this stage of processing much easier (Smil). The processing stage includes drying the gas and purifying the gas by ridding it of dirt, sand, and water vapor to prevent contamination and corrosion of equipment and pipelines (Abbott 32). The dried gas is further processed to remove the traces of heavier hydrocarbons gases like propane and butane leaving the primary methane and ethane. It is also during the production process that cases like helium, carbon dioxide and nitrogen are captured, and the gas is injected with mercaptan to give it a distinct odor for safety purposes. The gas is piped into a compressor station from where its pressure is increased to enable transportation across the country in pipelines. The gas’s pressure is reduced to allow for its distribution for domestic as well as industrial use as needed.

Utilization

There are several uses of the processed natural gases varying from domestic or commercial purposes as it is viewed as a reliable energy source in the country. A significant percentage of most American homes use natural gases delivered through pipes or tanks as compressed natural gas. It is used for space heating, stoves, ovens, dryers, water heating and other appliances in the house. Additionally, it is used in space and water heating as well as air conditioning in most commercial buildings (Smil 89). However, the most significant consumer of natural gas is the electric power generation as it conforms to the United States commitment to reduce carbon emissions. In industries, it used both a raw material for the production of a wide range of chemicals and fertilizer and a source of heat in the production of most commodities.

Literature

Natural gas has been termed among the most environmentally friendly energy sources compared to other sources like oil or coal. Its ability to burn cleanly means that it does not pollute the air. Empirical evidence by Nwaoha and Iyoke (39) shows that natural gas does not contain large amounts of greenhouse gases that would facilitate the eradication of the ozone layer thus causing global warming. Nwaoha and Iyoke (39) indicate that the using fuels that emit greenhouse gases facilitate the rate at which the dangerous ultra-violet rays from the sun reach the surface thereby causing increased temperatures. Other environmental effects that may occur as a result of global warming include prolonged dry conditions and the emergence of acidic rain that affect the soil pH and hamper the growth of plants. Chamousis (2) gives the example of hydrogen that may be used for the internal combustion of engines without emitting any greenhouse gas during its combustion with oxygen. The primary emission when burning hydrogen is water vapor which does not pose any threat to the environment. Hydrogen is produced by reforming natural gas using steam meaning that natural gas does not have high content of harmful substances.

Natural gas emits little harmful substances because it burns cleaner compared to other fossil fuels. The cleanliness with which natural gas burns makes it produce half the CO2 coal release and more than a third less than petroleum products. The Americans now consider the purity of natural gas to be a suitable option and also the cheapest way of producing electricity with an average of 7 cents per kilowatt hour compared to when using coal that may take up to 10 cents per hour. Nigeria is an example of an African state that would save a lot of money by using natural gas. The article by Nwaoha and Iyoke (43) informs that the African state could save almost 654 billion Naira every year from its use of compressed natural gas. Nigeria is set to benefit from this form of fuel considering that it spends more than 1.6 trillion every year to run vehicles and industrial equipment each year.

Natural gas comes with other valuable advantages that make the source of energy attractive to many. The power producer proves to an excellent source of energy because it is easily movable. It is possible to store and transport the fuel as a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) or in the form of compressed natural gas (CNG) that fit perfectly into cylinders of different shapes and sizes. Furthermore, as it is not stored underground like oil and other petroleum products, the chance of soil or water pollution through oil spills and contamination is greatly reduced (Newland). Natural gas is economically attributed to its abundance that makes the extraction process cheaper. It has useful byproducts with different uses both as a raw material and as heating source.

There are several disadvantages of natural gas, one being that it is highly flammable and as such can cause a lot of damage and severe explosions (Mohsenin). It is also colorless and odorless especially in its natural state, which makes it very dangerous and difficult to handle in case of a leak. The gas is also dangerous because of its highly combustible nature that may lead to fatal explosions in case of mishandling. Highly combustible natural gases such as methane scare many people from using the fuel in their automobiles (Nwaoha and Iyoke 42). Natural gas is also toxic to humans when inhaled in its unpurified form. Moreover, the entire natural gas production cycle can be hazardous to the environment by increasing carbon emissions that cause global warming and climate change. Its extraction process could also cause damage to the earth’s surface, cause landslides and tremors and adversely affect the ecosystem.

Natural gas has other demerits that need clarity to improve caution while handling the powerful source of energy. Extractors tend to believe that natural gas is a non-renewable source of energy thus limiting its use to preserve reserves. The prediction that the continuous use of natural gas will lead to depletion disqualifies it from being a solution to man’s search for non-deplorable forms of energy. Unfortunately, even though fossil fuels emit more quantities of carbon that natural gas, indications by Reinhardt and Falkenstein (2316) show that the source of power release some amount of greenhouse gasses that derail the efforts to combat climate change. Finally, the idea that the major producers of natural gas exist in the Middle East where dictatorship prevails makes it difficult for many investors to exploit the market. The revenue of the gas sales in many scenarios end up in the pockets of the authoritative leaders who acquire trillions from the transaction each year.

Discussion

Natural gas is a clean-burning fuel meaning that its combustion emits less carbon dioxide than coal and oil. Additionally, technological advances have ensured that the production of the byproduct nitrogen oxide has been reduced considerably. Its ability to burn cleanly means that it does not pollute the air with soot, odors or ashes that contribute to the pollution of the air. Natural gas is clean and harmless to humans, which means that the storage and distribution does not put people at health risk upon exposure.

Secondly, natural gas is economically beneficial and efficient from its extraction through to the utilization stages. In relation to the mining, there is an abundant supply of the gas deposits in the country, unlike oil, which is typically imported from other countries. The abundance makes the extraction processes cheaper, and on most occasions, the wells are easily discovered (Smil 167). Recent studies on the gas deposit reveal that there is still more than a hundred years of availability of gas with the majority of the reserves untouched. Moreover, with technology, the exploration and extraction process has become cheaper compared to the exploration. In the production stage, most of the gas reservoirs discovered are not near oil wells, reducing the processing cost by a significant margin. Additionally, the processing stage is a source of many by-products like butane and helium, which are used for other purposes in the industry. In regards to transportation and utilization, it is much more economical as it does not have to travel across oceans like the imported oil. It also makes economic sense because it has different uses as both a raw material and an energy source in industries that produce the majority of the utility commodities. It is economically beneficial to a country as it reduces the dependency and leverage by oil producing nations. Overall, natural gas has immeasurable economic benefits to a country because it is not limited to just one stage of the acquisition process as it has advantages ranging from its extraction to usage.

Natural gas is not flawless as it has some major disadvantages and problems associated with its extraction, production, transportation and utilization for the domestic, commercial or industrial application. Firstly, it is colorless and odorless especially in its natural state, which makes it very dangerous. Despite the fact that it is not harmful to human beings in its refined state, it is toxic when inhaled in an otherwise state, and as such during its extraction and early production, it is harmful to human beings (Mohsenin). Moreover, it is highly flammable and as such can cause a lot of damage to both property and natural resources if stored inappropriately. Its combustible nature poses a major challenge at all the stages of the natural gas cycle as mishandling of any kind can lead to dangerous explosions. Moreover, it is much more difficult to handle in case of a leak seeing as it is emitted into the air and can increase the radius of an explosion in the event it gets into contact with fire. Secondly, natural gas is a non-renewable source of energy, which makes it unreliable as a long-term energy source. Despite the large deposits of natural gas being discovered, they will eventually be depleted and as such cannot be depended upon as a permanent source of energy (Newland). Unlike wind and solar which are renewable, it poses a major threat as a long term investment as the gas could be depleted at any time and with the growing demand for energy its nature poses a great challenge.

A significant challenge posed by natural gas as a source of energy is its emissions of carbon compounds into the atmosphere contributing to the greenhouse effect. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the emission into the atmosphere though negligible comprise of up to ten percent of the total carbon dioxide emitted into the air. Air pollution has contributed to many modern-day issues including global warming and climate change and as such, gas miners and other stakeholders should create technological solutions that reduce the emissions from natural gas (Abbott 56). Moreover, the extraction process is harmful to the ecosystem as the methods used such as flacking, which requires a lot of water, results in the depletion of the waterbeds. Drilling, which is a method of extracting the gas can cause pressure on the surface resulting in tremors and even a collapse of the surface where the gas is extracted. A final problem that faces the natural gas production cycle is that the installation of the necessary equipment is costly which makes it difficult to create an infrastructure at all gas reserves. Additionally, upon exhaustion of the gas, the infrastructure is rendered useless because the reserves are not renewable.

The herein mentioned problems can be resolved in a number of ways depending on the challenge posed. For instance, the environmental pollution can be addressed by investing in developing technology that ensures that the emissions into the air are reduced significantly, either by better purification methods or by more efficient ways of getting rid of the harmful byproducts. Its high combustibility can be resolved by ensuring that the transportation and distribution of the gas is reinforced with additional measures to reduce the chances of leakages and explosions. Moreover, more research and resources should be directed at ensuring the methods used to extract natural gases do not interfere with the ecosystem or the soil profile. This would ensure that the earth is not affected by the entire gas production cycle.

In conclusion, while natural gas may not be a reliable source of energy, it is the most efficient and safest source as compared to oil and coal. More resources should be diverted to ensure it does not cause more damage to the environment and the ecosystem than is already done.

 

Works Cited

Abbott, Malcolm. The Economics of the Gas Supply Industry. Routledge, 2016.

Chamousis, Rachael. “Hydrogen: Fuel of the Future.” https://www.csustan.edu/sites/default/files/honors/documents/journals/Stirrings/Chamoussis.pdf . Accessed 5 December 2017.

Mohsenin, Ava. “The Environmental and Social Impacts of Natural Gas Fracking.” Forbes, 17 April 2017,

<https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2017/04/17/the-environmental-and-social-impacts-of-natural-gas-fracking/#3dd760071a76> Accessed 24 November 2017

Newland, David. “Natural Gas 101: Pros & Cons.” Environmental Science.org., 2016,  <https://www.environmentalscience.org/natural-gas> Accessed 24 November 2017.

Nwaoha and Iyoke Udoka. “A Review on Natural Gas Utilization and Cutting Carbon Emissions: How Viable is Compressed Natural Gas for Road Vehicle Fuel?” Journal of Energy Technologies and Policy, vol. 3, no. 5, 2013, pp. 37-46.

Reinhardt, George and Falkenstein Erick. “Environemntal Assessment of Biofuels for Transport and the Aspects of Land Competition.” Biomass and Bioenergy, vol. 35, 2011, pp. 2315-2322.

Smil, Vaclav. Natural Gas: Fuel for the 21st Century. Wiley, 2015.

 

 

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