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The History of Natural Gas

People all over the world today enjoy the many benefits of the energy natural gas provides, as well as the convenience of on-demand access.

Many of us grew up with natural gas readily available and may be surprised to learn Canada began widely implementing its use as an energy source over the last century.

Did You Know?

  • In 2018, 69% of Canada’s marketable natural gas was produced in Alberta.

Despite the relatively new emergence of natural gas as an energy resource, natural gas has been around for hundreds of millions of years. In fact, its formation started hundreds of millions of years ago—even before dinosaurs roamed the Earth!

How did natural gas come to play such an important role? Read on to learn more about the history of natural gas and how it became such a significant, life-changing resource.

Natural Gas History – The Science of Formation

To accurately explain the history of natural gas, it helps to go back to the basics of what it is and how it came to be.

What is Natural Gas?

Natural gas is a fossil fuel, like coal and oil, that exists deep below the earth’s surface. Once extracted, it can be converted into a source of energy for use in heating, cooking and generating electricity.

How is Natural Gas Formed?

Natural gas deposits formed millions of years ago from the remains of decomposing plant and animal matter. This carbon and hydrogen-rich material built up in thick layers on the earth’s surface and ocean floors, eventually sinking deep beneath layers of sand, silt, and rock.

Over time this material was exposed to tremendously intense heat and pressure under the earth’s surface, which transformed it into natural gas.

Natural Gas History – Discovery & Implementation Timeline

  • As early as 500 B.C.E or even 1000 B.C.E:

Humans first discovered natural gas when lighting struck deposits causing small flames to emerge from the ground. Upon this discovery, humans didn’t have any idea what to make of it. Since no one knew about the risks associated with burning impure natural gas and carbon monoxide, some ancient societies built communities around these flames and used them as a heat source or holy ritual site. One of the most famous of these flames was on Mount Parnassus in ancient Greece.

  • ~500 B.C.:

The Chinese discovered how to use the natural gas fires to their benefit. They crafted simple, crude ‘pipelines’ from bamboo shoots to transport the gas and then use it to boil sea water in order to separate out the salt and make it drinkable.

  • 17th Century A.D.:

In 1626, French explorers discovered Aboriginal peoples lighting the gases around the shore of Lake Erie.

History of Natural Gas – Modern Usage

Today, we use natural gas on-demand to heat our homes and our water, and to fuel gas-powered household appliances such as ovens, lawn mowers, barbecues, etc.

We are largely able to do that due to advances and efficiencies in extraction, transport and processing. To extract natural gas from deep in the earth, the first step is to locate natural gas deposits through seismic surveys. From there, companies drill into the earth to access the gas and then use wells and pumps to bring it to the surface.

After extraction, refineries process the natural gas by removing water vapor and nonhydrocarbon compounds.

Did You Know?

In its raw state, natural gas is odorless. The "rotten egg" smell we associate with natural gas is caused by the addition of a harmless chemical called mercaptan during processing to give it a distinctive odor for safety reasons.

Once it is processed, natural gas travels to your city or town through gas mains. From there, smaller pipes direct it to an address that ultimately connects to a meter. From the meter, additional pipes enable the natural gas to flow into the premises as needed.

The Future of Natural Gas

Natural gas is a cleaner alternative to more “traditional” fuels, and exists in abundance across Canada and Alberta, specifically. Direct Energy Regulated Services serves the regulated natural gas market in Alberta, providing energy for hundreds of thousands of customers across the province. If you’re interested in learning more about natural gas and the natural gas rates in Alberta, call us at 1.866.420.3174 or contact us online.