What is natural gas?
Natural gas was formed millions of years ago as plants and animals died, decayed, and were covered by rock and soil. Over time, heat and pressure in the earth’s crust turned these plants and animals into hydrocarbons and the fossil fuels we rely on today, including natural gas.
Natural gas is the world’s cleanest-burning fossil fuel, producing half the amount of greenhouse gas emissions emitted by coal, and only two-thirds of that emitted by oil.
Today, natural gas is the largest energy source used in Canadian homes. It is also used to support industrial and transportation energy needs.
British Columbia’s natural gas
Natural gas activities have been taking place in B.C. since the early 1950s. The northeast region of the province is where most natural gas resources can be found – in areas such as the Horn River Basin, the Montney Basin, the Liard Basin and the Cordova Embayment.
Province-wide, B.C. has a vast amount of natural gas resources. The total estimate currently exceeds 3,400 trillion cubic feet of original gas-in-place. This is the total amount of gas available for exploration.
What is hydraulic fracturing?
Hydraulic fracturing is a decades-old process used to extract natural gas from underground. It involves pumping water and sand into a gas well at a high pressure, causing small cracks to appear in the rock deep below the surface and releasing the natural gas trapped inside.
Hydraulic fracturing is only used for a week or two, when the well is first drilled. After the process is completed, water is withdrawn and gas flows into the well – often for as long as 20 or 30 years. The gas is captured and transferred to processing plants through pipelines. The water is reused in other wells, and eventually sent to a location where it can be safely disposed of.
The vast majority of B.C.’s natural gas resources are only accessible through the use of hydraulic fracturing. Read more about hydraulic fracturing in our LNG Info Kits.
Liquefied natural gas – LNG
Liquefied natural gas, or LNG, is natural gas chilled to -160 degrees Celsius. At this temperature, the natural gas converts into a liquid form.
After it has been liquefied, natural gas condenses to approximately 1/600th of its normal volume, making it safe and economically efficient to transport overseas. It is later reheated and converted back into a gaseous state so it can be used to generate power and heat homes.
The LNG industry has been around for a long time. The first LNG plant was built in West Virginia in 1912; the first commercial plant was built in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1941. The world’s first LNG vessel carried cargo from Lake Charles, Louisiana to Canvey Island, United Kingdom, in 1959.
Global trade of LNG has increased exponentially in recent years. As the global trade for natural gas increases, LNG trade is expected to play a significant and larger role than before. Countries that are expected to lead global economic growth, such as China and India, are interested in securing new supplies of the world’s cleanest-burning fossil fuel. Other countries, such as Japan and South Korea, who have been the world’s largest importers of LNG, are looking for opportunities to diversify their energy supply options.
B.C.’s LNG Commitment
B.C.’s vision for LNG exports began in September 2011 with the release of Canada Starts Here: The BC Jobs Plan – a plan to strengthen local economies by getting B.C.’s products to new markets.
As part of the BC Jobs Plan, the provincial government set a goal of diversifying the province’s natural gas sector and developing a means to export to other markets. To achieve this goal, an LNG strategy was developed that set in motion a plan to build the industry. The strategy captured the attention of large companies and global investors, who have since come forward with numerous LNG proposals, now at various stages of development.
Global benefit of LNG
As a transition fuel, natural gas will play a strong role in both energy and economic security for several more decades as renewable technologies, energy storage, and smart grid systems evolve.
Climate change is a global issue today. By supplying international markets with the cleanest burning fossil fuel, B.C. can fight climate change on a global scale.
China, for example, has set a goal of almost doubling the role of natural gas in its energy portfolio and displacing coal use by 2020. B.C.’s natural gas could play a critical role in helping China reduce its use of coal-fired electricity.
Analysis shows that lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from the production and consumption of B.C. LNG would be more than 20% lower than those from coal produced and consumed in China.
NEXT: LNG and B.C.’s Economy