Energy: Natural gas, A Cleaner Alternative? By: Cecile Edleman

“The United States contains just over 4 percent of the world’s natural gas reserves” (NaturalGas). We’ve all heard of natural gas but do many of us understand what it is? Natural gas is a non- renewable resource way beneath the earths surface, kind of like oil in that way. Natural gas consists of mainly methane and also contains small amounts of hydrocarbon gas liquids and non-hydrocarbon gasses (EIA GOV). Natural gas was formed millions of years ago, the same way oil was with the remains of dead animal and plant life that decayed and built up in thick layers over time. Over time these layers were buried under sand silt and rock, this and additional pressure and heat eventually over a long period of time turned some of this organic material to coal, oil or natural gas (EIA GOV). Thus why natural gas is typically found near oil deposits. The deeper you go the more compression has occurred and you can find more pure natural gas. Natural gas then either pools into large cracks under layers of bedrock, tiny pores within formations of shale and other rock or I coal deposits (NaturalGeographics).

In order to extract natural gas fracturing must occur. Now there has been a debate on whether natural gas could possibly be “the lesser of two evils” between oil as an energy resource as of late. As oil burns and releases a significant amount of gases that are primary contributors to acid deposition and smog which affects the environment and our health. Compared to natural gas, when it is burned and used for energy it is one of the “cleanest fossil fuels” but it also lets out an abundance of methane into the environment.

Natural gas can also be extracted relatively safety with the use of vertical fracturing or drilling vertically into the earth. But vertical fracturing is limited to the natural gas that it encounters. Hydraulic fracturing or horizontal drilling is much more efficient but come with negative externalities on the environment but expand the amount of natural gas we can access. “Hydraulic fracturing, is a process that splits open rock formations with high-pressure streams of water, chemicals, and sand. The sand props open the rocks, which allows gas to escape and be stored or transported” (Natural Geographic). The National Bureau of Economic Research finds that horizontal drilling and hydrofracturing led to extra wages and royalties within producing counties and an overall increase of U.S. employment by 725,000 jobs” (nber). So ignoring the negative externalities on the environment, horizontal drilling and hydrofracturing, both used to obtain natural gas, also helps boost the economy and create jobs. The problem is hydraulic fracturing when done correctly is safe, but in certain areas where the bedrock differs can cause issues. These issues are issues the private market tends to ignore. Essentially negative externalities that are not taken into account during production. An additional flaw to this is that it uses a massive amount of water to extract the natural gas. So as byproduct we typically see highly toxic water run off. Fracturing can also cause micro-earthquakes; which to me is insane to think about. We cam affect the earth so much that we are now causing earth quakes.

Today competitive forces are being relied upon more heavily to determine market structure and operation. However this has not always been the case, in the 1970’s the U.S government had strict price controls on Natural gas. This led to tremendous difficulties in the industry and for it to really be too expensive to be an economically viable option in comparison to oil as an energy resource. Now a days fracturing for natural gas is relatively cheap and cleaner than coal, besides the methane natural gas releases. It is cheap now because we historically price controlled it. Supply is now increasing so naturally the price is decreasing.

So the question is can natural gas be an efficient energy source keeping the economics and environment in mind? Natural gas is still a non-renewable energy source but on the other had is called one of the cleanest fossil fuels. But using oil as an alternative also produces a lot of negative byproducts’ as well. Essentially the real question becomes, what is the lesser of two evils?


Works Cited

“Natural Gas.” Natural Gas – Energy Explained, Your Guide To Understanding Energy – Energy Information Administration,


“” NaturalGasorg,


Society, National Geographic. “Natural Gas.” National Geographic Society, 9 Oct. 2012,


Home – Energy Explained, Your Guide To Understanding Energy – Energy Information Administration,


“Environment and Energy Economics.” Environment and Energy Economics,






























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