Do you consume natural gas?
Actually, this is a trick question, because you do. If you live in the United States, you definitely use natural gas – hundreds of times a day. How so, you say?
The most well-known uses of natural gas are for heating homes and providing fuel for water heaters. Some backyard grills burn natural gas. But even if you don’t use any of these, you still consume natural gas.
Do you have a cell phone? It’s made of plastics derived from natural gas. You also use natural gas when you charge your cell phone, because half of the electricity in Texas is generated with natural gas-fired power plants.
The list doesn’t stop there. Virtually everything we use on a daily basis contains a component that uses natural gas or oil in its manufacturing process, either as a fuel or as a "feedstock" (the raw material used in an industrial process to manufacture something else). There are no alternatives for these petrochemical feedstocks. Without them, we go back to making everything out of wood and stone.
Using oil and natural gas, the petrochemical industry manufactures chemicals that serve as building blocks in making everything from plastics and clothing to medicine and computers. They contribute essential materials for making cell phones, televisions, food and beverage containers, surgical gloves and gowns, fertilizer, blankets, cold-weather and rain gear, sneakers, computers, insulation, cameras, medicines, artificial joints, auto and aircraft parts, disposable diapers, CDs, and much more. This graphic shows the many ways we all consume natural gas.
Propane, used to heat homes and fire up our backyard barbecue grills, comes from natural gas. Propane is used in literally hundreds of residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural processes, such as forklift operations, metal galvanizing, grain dryers and ink drying.
Natural gas is important to our domestic food supply. The vast majority of fertilizer used in agriculture is ammonia-based, and you need natural gas to manufacture ammonia. Ethylene, which comes from natural gas, is used to accelerate the ripening of bananas and to mature the color of citrus fruits. It is also used to increase the growth rate of seedlings, vegetables and fruit trees.
Without sufficient supplies of natural gas, our food supply will be adversely affected.
The list goes on. Ethylene glycol, which comes from natural gas, is a key element in the plastics industry for the manufacture of polyester fibers and resins, including the primary component of plastic bottles for water and soft drinks. Ethylene glycol’s antifreeze capabilities make it an important component in the low-temperature preservation of biological tissues and organs to be used for transplantation to save lives.
Hydrogen is being touted as a clean transportation fuel — hydrogen-powered cars have been a dream of many environmentalists for years. Did you know natural gas is being used to generate hydrogen for such purposes? The space shuttles were fired into space with hydrogen made from natural gas. Ongoing research sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy is exploring the conversion of natural gas into "ultra-clean" fuels for other uses, as well.
The bottom line is that our entire standard of living is built on natural gas and oil, and there are no substitutes for the millions of products that are derived from these hydrocarbons. Wind and solar may be able to generate electricity, but even they need natural gas-powered power plants to back them up when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind isn’t blowing (or is blowing too hard and wind turbines are locked down for safety). Unless we go back to using only wood and stone implements, we are going to keep using natural gas. Fortunately, thanks to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, we have hundreds of years of natural gas just waiting to be tapped.