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Natural Gas

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Fast Facts About
Natural Gas

Principal Energy Uses: Electricity, Heat
Form of Energy: Chemical

Natural gas (NG) is the most versatile and fastest-growing fossil fuel—used in all areas of the economy (industrial, residential, commercial, and transportation). It is a depletable, non-renewable resource composed primarily of methane gas (CH4), with smaller amounts of natural gas liquids, carbon dioxide (CO2), and water vapor. While natural gas is the cleanest-burning fossil fuel, it still produces CO2 when combusted. And because natural gas is primarily methane, it is itself a very potent greenhouse gas when it is emitted to the atmosphere uncombusted.

Natural gas can escape or leak to the atmosphere as methane during the production, processing, storage, transmission, distribution, and use of natural gas, and the production, refinement, transportation, and storage of crude oil. Methane leakage poses a significant challenge for the natural gas energy system and for climate change. Much of this leakage can be avoided with good policy and oversight. Recent advances in satellites, flyovers, drones, and sensors are allowing better accountability and information.

Note: The data in these Fast Facts are for commercial natural gas. Landfill natural gas and biogas (methane from biological sources) are addressed on the Biomass page.


Significance

Energy Mix

23% of world 🌎 (#3 resource)
35% of US 🇺🇸 (#2 resource)

Electricity Generation

23% of world 🌎 (#2 resource)
40% of US 🇺🇸 (#1 resource)

Global NG Uses

Electricity: 39%
Heat (industrial): 26%*
Heat (buildings): 23%**
Oil and Natural Gas Production: 4%
Transportation: 3%

Global Consumption Change

Increase:
⬆ 8%
(2017-2022)

*includes chemical feedstock application (fertilizer, methanol)
**e.g., space and water heating, cooking


GHG Emissions

Natural Gas Systems Are a Significant Contributor to GHG Emissions

21% of world 🌎
27% of US 🇺🇸
GHG emissions (includes methane leakage)

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Pie chart showing US methane emissions by source
*Livestock category includes enteric fermentation and manure management
**Flooded land category example: decomposition of organic matter in natural wetlands


The Challenge of Natural Gas (Methane) Leakage

Global Warming Potential of Methane

80x more powerful than CO2 over 20 years

27-30x over 100 years

Methane only lasts about 12 years in the atmosphere but is very potent.

Methane Leakage from Natural Gas and Petroleum Systems

4%
of US GHG emissions

% of Natural Gas that is Leaked

The EPA cites US leakage at ~1.5% (could be higher). In key production regions (Permian) it may be as high as 9%.

Recent studies have shown that as little as 0.2% to 3% leakage puts natural gas on par with coal for climate change impact.

Controlling methane leakage is key for reducing GHG emissions. It is also beneficial to the oil and gas industry, because it increases their supply of natural gas to sell.


World

Largest Proven Reserves

Russia 20% 🇷🇺
of global proven reserves

Largest Producer

US 24% 🇺🇸
of global production

Largest Consumer

US 22% 🇺🇸
of global consumption


US

Largest Proven Reserves

Texas 24%
of US proven reserves

Largest Producer

Texas 25%
of US production

Largest Consumer

Texas 15%
of US consumption


Global Trade

Amount Traded

24%
of global production

51% as LNG*, 49% by pipeline

Largest Exporter

US 15% 🇺🇸
of global exports

Largest LNG* Exporters

Australia 21% 🇦🇺, Qatar 21% 🇶🇦, US 19% 🇺🇸

Largest Importer

Europe 44%
of global imports

Largest LNG* Importers

Japan 18% 🇯🇵, China 17% 🇨🇳

*LNG (liquified natural gas) natural gas that has been cooled down to liquid form for ease and safety of storage and transport


Drivers

  • Abundant and growing availability: ongoing innovation in extraction drives down costs and increases available resources
  • Versatile: many uses, including many forms of heat (for buildings and industrial processes) and electricity generation
  • Feasible to transport via pipeline or LNG tankers
  • Relatively low private costs compared to other fossil fuels (but note that social and environmental costs are not factored into the price)
  • Flexible/dispatchable for electricity generation: easy to ramp up and down based on needs of the electricity grid; critical for scaling renewables
  • Potential “blue bridge to green future.” No solid waste, lower CO2, SO2 and NOX than coal; cleanest burning fossil fuel
  • Methane and CO2 monitoring solutions and reduction technologies emerging rapidly

Barriers

  • Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas; venting, leaking, and flaring need to be addressed or the future of natural gas is problematic
  • Resource not evenly distributed around the world, raising concerns around geopolitics of supply and demand, energy security
  • Lower energy density requires transportation infrastructure. Pipeline and LNG gasification siting can be controversial
  • Natural gas infrastructure requires reclamation and remediation at end of life

Climate Impact: Medium to High

medium to high gradient
  • Lower CO2 emissions intensity than coal or oil when combusted
  • Leakage of methane during extraction and transportation contributes to global warming, as methane is a potent greenhouse gas

Environmental Impact: Medium

medium on a scale from low to high
  • Extraction and transport by pipeline pose a risk to natural habitat, nearby human communities, and water quality
  • Has very low emissions other than leakage, and it is enabling renewables and replacing coal

Updated January 2024

Before You Watch Our Lecture on
Natural Gas

We assign videos and readings to our Stanford students as pre-work for each lecture to help contextualize the lecture content. We strongly encourage you to review the Essential videos and readings before watching our lecture on Natural Gas. Include selections from the Optional and Useful list based on your interests and available time.

Essential

Optional and Useful

  • Where Our Natural Gas Comes From. EIA. October 3, 2022. (1 page)
    An introduction to natural gas production and consumption in the United States, with focus on reports of current statistical activity.
  • The Business of Natural Gas. Southern Gas Association. April 22, 2013. (4 min)
    An overview of the commercial industry and fiscal aspects of natural gas exploration, drilling, production, treatment, shipping, and commercial consumption.
  • Natural Gas Processing. API Adventures in Energy. 2010. (4 pages)
    A web-based introductory overview of the components of natural gas processing in the United States.
  • Natural Gas Pipelines. API Adventures in Energy. 2010. (5 pages)
    A web-based introductory overview of the components of natural gas distribution infrastructure in the United States.

Our Lecture on
Natural Gas

This is our Stanford University Understand Energy course lecture on natural gas. We strongly encourage you to watch the full lecture to understand natural gas as an energy system and to be able to put this complex topic into context. For a complete learning experience, we also encourage you to watch / read the Essential videos and readings we assign to our students before watching the lecture.

Jane Woodward

Presented by: Jane Woodward, Adjunct Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University; Founder and Managing Partner, WovenEarth Ventures; Founding Partner, MAP Energy
Recorded on: October 3, 2022   Duration: 85 minutes

Table of Contents

(Clicking on a timestamp will take you to YouTube.)
00:00 Introduction
02:23 Significance and History
32:43 What Natural Gas Is and Where to Find It
38:51 How the Natural Gas System Works
1:00:12 Natural Gas Impacts on the Environment
1:17:03 The Economics of Natural Gas
1:21:19 The Future of Natural Gas

Lecture slides available upon request.

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Additional Resources About
Natural Gas

Stanford University

Fast Facts Sources
Energy Mix: World 2022 (Statistical Review of World Energy 2023,Primary energy consumption by fuel), U.S. 2022 (Monthly Energy Review (Table 1.3), EIA 2023). 
Electricity Mix: World 2022(Statistical Review of World Energy 2023, Electricity generation by fuel), U.S. 2022 (EIA Electric Power Monthly, Tables 1.1 and 1.1A.) 
Global Natural Gas Uses: World 2020 (Global natural gas demand per sector, 2005-2025, IEA). 
Global Demand: World 2022 (Energy Institute Statistical Review of World Energy 2023, Gas consumption). 
GHG Emissions: World 2020 (IEA Net-Zero Emissions by 2050 Roadmap, IEA, CO2 emissions), U.S. 2022 (U.S. CO2 emissions from energy consumption by source and sector, 2022, EIA). 
Global Warming Potential of Methane: (EPA (April 2023) "Understanding Global Warming Potentials"). 
Sources of Methane Emissions: United States 2021 (Methane Emissions by Source, EPA). 
Methane Emissions and Leakage: United States 2019 (EIA (December 8, 2021) Natural Gas and the Environment
Percent of Natural Gas Leaked: United States 2018  (PBS (July 2018) “The US Natural Gas Industry is Leaking Way More Methane Than Originally Thought” ), United States 2022 ( “Stanford-led study: Methane leaks are far worse than estimates, at least in New Mexico, but there’s hope” ). 
Leakage Climate Impact: World 2023 (Chen et al, ​​Quantifying Regional Methane Emissions in the New Mexico Permian Basin with a Comprehensive Aerial Survey, Environmental Science and Technology, 2022, 56, 7, 4317–4323; Xiao et al., Observation-derived 2010-2019 trends in methane emissions and intensities from US oil and gas fields tied to activity metrics, PNAS 2023  vol. 120, no. 17; Coal vs. Natural Gas, RMI;   Gordon et al., Evaluating net life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions intensities from gas and coal at varying methane leakage rates, Environmental Research Letters, 2023, vol. 18, no.8). 
Largest Proved Reserves: World 2022 (Statistical Review of World Energy 2023, Gas proved reserves), U.S. 2021 (U.S. Crude Oil and Natural Gas Proved Reserves, Year-end 2021, EIA). 
Largest Producer: World 2022 (Statistical Review of World Energy 2023, Natural gas production), U.S. 2022 ( EIA, FAQs. ”Which states consume and produce the most natural gas?”). 
Largest Consumer: World 2022 (Energy Institute Statistical Review of World Energy 2023, Gas consumption), U.S. 2022 ( EIA, FAQs. ”Which states consume and produce the most natural gas?”). 
Global Trade: World 2022 (Energy Institute Statistical Review of World Energy 2023, Trade movements LNG & Trade movements pipeline). 
Largest Exporter: World 2022 (Energy Institute Statistical Review of World Energy 2023, Trade movements LNG & Trade movements pipeline). 
Largest  Importer: World 2022 (Energy Institute Statistical Review of World Energy 2023, Trade movements LNG & Trade movements pipeline).
More details available on request.
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