History of Natural Gas


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Natural gas is nothing new. In fact, most of the natural gas that is brought out from under the ground is millions and millions of years old. However, it was not until recently that methods for obtaining this gas, bringing it to the surface, and putting it to use were developed.

Before there was an understanding of what natural gas was, it posed somewhat of a mystery to man. Sometimes, such things as lightning strikes would ignite natural gas that was escaping from under the earth's crust. This would create a fire coming from the earth, burning the natural gas as it seeped out from underground. These fires puzzled most early civilizations, and were the root of much myth and superstition. One of the most famous of these types of flames was found in ancient Greece, on Mount Parnassus approximately 1,000 B.C. A goat herdsman came across what looked like a 'burning spring', a flame rising from a fissure in the rock. The Greeks, believing it to be of divine origin, built a temple on the flame. This temple housed a priestess who was known as the Oracle of Delphi, giving out prophecies she claimed were inspired by the flame.

These types of springs became prominent in the religions of India, Greece, and Persia. Unable to explain where these fires came from, they were often regarded as divine, or supernatural. It wasn't until about 500 B.C. that the Chinese discovered the potential to use these fires to their advantage. Finding places where gas was seeping to the surface, the Chinese formed crude pipelines out of bamboo shoots to transport the gas, where it was used to boil sea water, separating the salt and making it drinkable.

Britain was the first country to commercialize the use of natural gas. Around 1785, natural gas produced from coal was used to light houses, as well as streetlights.

During most of the 19th century, natural gas was used almost exclusively as a source of light. Without a pipeline infrastructure, it was difficult to transport the gas very far, or into homes to be used for heating or cooking. Most of the natural gas produced in this era was manufactured from coal, as opposed to transported from a well. Near the end of the 19th century, with the rise of electricity, natural gas lights were converted to electric lights. This led producers of natural gas to look for new uses for their product.