Natural Gas is a mainstay fuel for many countries. Some people regard it as only a commodity that needs pumping from the ground, and piping into homes, for heating and cooking.
A quick turn of a valve supplies all the energy needed to a homeowner, but it takes much effort behind the scenes to put a gas flame under a pot of water. The journey gas takes from an underground drilled well to a domestic home is full of high-pressure twists and turns, sometimes crossing borders, and at other times sitting in a storage tank awaiting consumption.
Natural gas starts life deep underground as associated, or non-associated, gas. Associated gas is an impure mixture found within an oil reserve. This mix needs purifying before it can meet accepted specifications. In contrast, non-associated gas comes from dry gas wells, with no oil present, and from condensate wells, which contain natural gas liquid, or wet gas.
Once extracted from the well, natural gas makes its way through a relatively small pipe, known as a flow line. The flow line ends at a nearby temporary storage tank, where the gas may undergo compression. This storage area acts as a collection point for several flow lines from different local wellheads.
From the flow lines and storage tanks, the gas then transfers to larger pipes, called gathering lines. These typically have larger bores than the flow lines. Gathering lines take the gas to a central processing plant. Processing removes impurities, and extracts various useful by-products. These by-products, such as propane and butane, are used for producing plastics and feedstock, and fuelling gas lighters. The plant where the gathering lines end might be near a marine dock, for easy loading and transporting by ship.
After cleaning, the natural gas travels to a distribution centre or large storage area. To reach this point over land, it journeys through large-bore transmission pipes, which may have diameters of two to four feet (610 to 1220 millimetres). Transmission pipes run great distances across a country, and sometimes internationally, to supply distribution centres. Some of the longest transmission pipes are seen in China, Russia, America, and Canada.
Consumers regard the distribution centre as the main source of gas in the area, as this is from where the gas mains pipes run. These pipes are called distribution pipelines. As intermediate pipes, these help to convert the gas from a high pressure to a safer, more usable, low pressure, for domestic use. Distribution pipelines are frequently seen in trenches during road works, or highway maintenance.
A property supplied with gas employs a small-bore pipe, usually less than two inches (50mm) in diameter, which runs from the home to the distribution pipe under the road. This is the service pipe; the last stretch of pipe gas must travel through on its long journey from wellhead to the gas meter in the home.
Safely at its final destination, gas may provide fuel for diverse appliances such as cookers, clothes dryers, furnaces for central heating and water, and even air-conditioners.
Consumers are seldom aware of the technology, materials, and work which provide a constant, safe, supply of fuel to homes. However, these homeowners are happy to find a value-for-money source of fuel at the press of a button.
Sam Jones the author of this article is often asked where people should go to secure the best gas prices. He recommends the uSwitch price comparison website where all of the main suppliers can be compared at the touch of a button
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