The Growth Of The Natural Gas Market
Recent improvements in shale technology have seen the industry heralded as the most important thing to happen to the energy market this century. As the largest producer of natural gas, America is leading the way in technology centered on this fossil fuel.
But where could these recent advancements lead, and is the growth rate sustainable?
Applications For Natural Gas
Despite still trailing behind coal and oil in terms of amounts produced, natural gas has become increasingly important as advancements in technology have made it more practical to use.
Although natural gas only equates to around 18% of America’s fossil fuel production, recent figures show that it provides over 75% of the energy consumed in residential and commercial properties across the States. With over a third of natural gas used in the production of electricity and estimates that it provides around 28% of the total energy consumed in the States, natural gas is of huge importance to our standard of living.
Along with its main use in energy supply, gas is also used in many other industries, such as:
- Raw material used in production of paint, plastics and medicine
- Used to produce ammonia and fertilizers
- Exported as a liquefied gas product
- Hydrogen production
- Vehicle fuel
It’s no coincidence that many of these industries have recently seen a growth in the use of gas, as the main disadvantage of gas has always been storage and transportation. With vast improvements in design and production techniques, recent technology has facilitated this growth leading to increasing demand for the product.
Increased Mining Developments On Federal Land
America has witnessed an eight year period of decline of natural gas imported into the country. With plans to increase the amount of natural gas presently being exported out of the country, export levels are expected to surpass import for the first time since 1957.
This is mainly because of increased production capabilities, which offer a cheaper alternative to the imported gas. The increased production is largely due to refined mining techniques, which is highlighted by the fact that America currently has 280 operational rigs that are producing a third more gas now than the 1,200 rigs operational in 2009.
As reports continue to show that natural gas is being removed from the earth without any signs of contamination, fracking is increasingly being seen by the public as an accepted method of gas retrieval.
With decreasing costs and increasing demand, natural gas is becoming an increasingly attractive business proposition. Coupled with the fact that there’s a plentiful supply of gas fields in America that are available to exploit, there continues to be major investment and innovation being made in this field.
Gas Transportation Across America
One area that has greatly benefited from the advancements of shale technology has been the storage and transportation of gas. Gas needs to be compressed under pressure to allow transportation through pipes. Producing a safe and reliable system has previously been a major problem facing the industry.
Natural gas pipeline compressor stations across the United States have risen in numbers over recent years as the pipeline network has been expanded and upgraded. This has been largely due to the recent expansion of gas production in previously underdeveloped areas of the States and has been aided by innovations in centrifugal compressors and modernizations in their design.
With retrofits applied to older substations to bring them in line with the current standard, there are several unique and challenging conditions which the new compressor systems have had to overcome, such as:
- High performance demands due to being continuously in use
- Built-in safety measures to control the pressurized system
- Heavy duty parts built for durability
- A mixture of environmental conditions such as temperature, altitude, and adverse weather conditions
- Ease of maintenance to allow for quick repairs with the minimum amount of disruption to service as possible
As these problems have been solved through new technologies in the industrial marketplace, it’s starting to become clear that their application could also be used closer to home.
The Potential For Natural Gas Vehicles
Current estimates suggest that around 3% of American vehicles already use natural gas as their main fuel source. With many more duel fuel engined vehicles already in circulation and an increasing number of cars being converted, natural gas vehicles have a reasonably strong foothold in the market.
Since the Honda Civic GX, which was the first NGV (natural gas vehicle) available in Northern America, there has become a growing public interest in environmentally friendly options for the combustion engine. Offering a cleaner alternative to both regular gasoline and diesel, NGV’s are proven to produce around 30-40% less in greenhouse gas by-products and a huge 60-90% less in smog-producing pollutants.
With natural gas readily available to around half of the American population at present, there is a huge potential for rapid growth in this industry. In Ohio, there is already a developed network of gas fueling stations emerging, and with gas prices expected to remain low, these fuelling stations could well become a more common site across the country.
The traditional gasoline market has been unchallenged for a long time in the automotive industry, largely because there hasn’t been any other viable competition. A common driver for competition in a market is often when demand for low prices, however, gasoline prices have remained relatively inexpensive since the beginning of 2015. And this is something which doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon, due to the low price of crude oil and the large surplus currently being held in the States.
There is still high hope that recent gas technology advancements will translate into the domestic market.
The main aspect that is holding back the emergence of natural gas vehicles has been the high cost and slow efficiency of home fueling stations. With increased productivity and investment in industrial compressor stations, a similar solution is already being applied, with hopes that a breakthrough can be made in mass production which will naturally lower the overall cost.
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