Natural Energy Resources Term Paper

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Managing Natural Resources - Natural Gas

Natural gas is a non-renewable energy source. It is often found with oil. Natural gas makes up a significant proportion of the energy used by the United States. Effective management of this energy source is vital. Though the United States is a major producer of natural gas, it also must import to meet its needs. Management must cover not only extraction, processing and distribution within the United States, but it must also constructively interact with the demands of the rest of the world to secure natural gas imports. Economics, politics and environmental concerns must all be properly addressed to create an effective management system that everyone can live with.

Today, natural gas has become an important energy resource in the United States and around the world. Natural gas is principally composed of methane with smaller amounts of ethane, propane and other hydrocarbons (Castaneda, 2001; National Petroleum Council, 2007) the exact mixture of gases varies from place to place. Processing procedures work to strip out the secondary gases from the raw natural gas, while leaving methane for commercial purposes.

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Natural gas is considered a relatively clean form of fossil fuel. It burns much cleaner than oil, gasoline or coal. Natural gas emits far lower levels of sulfur, carbon, nitrogen and far less ash than the other common forms of fossil fuel. It is, however an emitter of carbon dioxide, a known greenhouse gas (Berinstein, 2001). The carbon dioxide emissions are a concern as people become more aware and concerned about the greenhouse effect and other global warming issues.

Term Paper on Natural Energy Resources Assignment

Natural gas has been known to humanity for millennia. Thousands of years ago, people would find natural gas seeps that had made it to the surface and had been ignited by lightning. People then didn't understand the processes behind these eerily burning places and became convinced they were supernatural or of divine origin. Sometimes they built temples over these "divine" flame locations. The Chinese were the first to put the natural gas to work. Around 2,500 years ago, they used bamboo to pipe gas from shallow pockets to the coast where the gas was ignited under large pans of sea water to recover the salt (NEED, 2007).

In the U.S. The first natural gas well was dug in Fredonia, New York in the early 1800s. Gas became popular in larger cities during the 1800's for lighting. Wealthy people even had gas lighting in their homes (NEED, 2007). With the advent of electricity, natural gas was repositioned for heating and cooking. Broad acceptance of gas was handicapped by a lack of a good delivery system. At that time, there wasn't a way to pump large volumes of gas very far. Gas needed to be used very close to where it was pumped out of the ground. For the most part, gas was not considered to be very useful.

The broad scale use of gas did not really take off until after World War II with the establishment of large scale pipeline systems across the United States (Natural Gas.org, 2008). Natural gas was soon available across the entire country. Its' popularity as an energy source soon rose..

Because it is principally a fossil fuel, natural gas has a limited supply. Since this is the case, the question then becomes one of managing natural gas resources to extend their usefulness for as long as possible. Long-term management of natural gas will require sensible and thoughtful accommodation of a wide variety of needs and concerns. Management will require ever more advanced technologies and techniques for extraction, processing and delivery of the gas. It will also demand broad scale collaboration of many different people and nations to make it work effectively for everyone.

Economic Importance

Natural gas is the second most commonly used form of energy in the United States. Natural gas fulfills 23% of the nations energy needs (Berinstein, 2001). Not surprisingly it is used in a wide variety of ways. Industry uses it principally for heat and as a component in a variety of products. These products include fertilizer, photographic film, detergent, insect repellent and nylon. Residential use is primarily in heating. Nearly 60% of homes use natural gas for heating. Natural gas is also becoming popular for generating electricity. It has become the third largest generator of energy in the United States (NEED, 2007). The low cost and comparative cleanliness of gas as compared to coal interests a great many people interested in converting to a cleaner energy source for electricity (Fjell, 2003).

Natural gas is also beginning to be used for transportation purposes. Though personal cars running on natural gas are available, the majority of vehicles running on natural gas are found in commercial and municipal fleets. The comparatively low price of natural gas as compared to diesel or gasoline results in large savings for fleet managers.

Future uses for natural gas principally revolve around power generation, either for personal transportation or electricity. Natural gas is being considered as an excellent source of fuel for fuel cells. Fuel cells produce power by means of chemical reactions rather than by internal combustion. The chemical reaction used in fuel cells has been shown to be far more efficient that any produced by internal combustion (Natural Gas.org, 2008).

Availability of Natural Gas

Natural gas is often found in areas that also contain oil. Natural gas can also be found under specific conditions on its own. In the United States, seventeen states produce natural gas. The largest amounts come from states along the Gulf of Mexico and into the southwest and plains states (Scheirer et al., 2007; Warwick et al., 2007).

There are also large deposits said to be found in Alaska. All of these areas also produce oil, so it's no surprise to find extensive deposits of natural gas there.

Other sources and potential sources found across the globe follow a similar pattern. Large deposits of natural gas are present in the oil producing states of the Middle East. The largest deposits in the world are believed to be found in Russia. It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of the natural gas in the entire world is found in exactly four countries: Russia, Qatar, Iran and Saudi Arabia (National Petroleum Council, 2007).

How much natural gas is still available? The answer to that question depends on who you ask and how they computed their figures. Estimates range from seven years to one thousand years. How can there be such disparity? It all lies with definitions. There two types of potential natural gas sources: reserve and resource. Reserves are those natural gas sources that are already known and are either already being pumped or can be pumped in the near future with current levels of knowledge and technology. These resources are assessed routinely by government agencies in the United States (Scheirer et al., 2007) and other countries. Resources are unknown sources or known sources that are currently too difficult or too expensive to recover (National Petroleum Council, 2007).

To make matters even more confusing, there are also conventional and unconventional reserves and resources. Conventional sources are exactly what you would think they should be. They are natural gas found in typical situations in typical forms. For an example, a conventional form of natural gas would be natural gas found in gaseous form within an oil field. Unconventional sources are sources found in unusual forms and places. For an example, coal can be burned to form gas. Unsurprisingly, unconventional sources are much more expensive to develop process and bring to market that conventional sources are. Even so, unconventional sources will make up an ever larger percentage of the gas used in the United States in the coming years (National Petroleum Council, 2007).

As you can see, if someone relies principally on reserve and conventional sources to calculate future availability, they would get a much different and much lower number than someone who also included resource and unconventional natural gas in their calculations. The difficulty in using resource natural gas, and especially unconventional forms, in such calculations is the fact that they are currently not under production. Their nature and actual quantity is unknown, so estimating their potential future benefit as energy sources is rather problematic. Some sources however, are potentially immense.

One potential source is methane hydrates. Methane hydrates form when methane gas is trapped within water molecules, forming a crystalline structure that can contain a large amount of energy (Wolman, 2003). They also can occur in permafrost. The deposits can cover enormous areas (USGS, 2004). Methane hydrates are also known as "crystal gas." Some researchers consider it possible that deposits of free natural gas may lie underneath the layers of methane hydrate. Some environmentalists are afraid that drilling for these methane hydrate deposits could result in an environmental disaster. Methane is a greenhouse gas and released in large quantities could have a devastating effect on climates the world over.

Researchers at the Institute for Marine Research (GEOMAR) in Kiel, Germany are working… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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