What is natural gas

Natural gas is a mixture of hydrocarbons, a subject of a religious cult and academic disputes, as well as an essential resource. It is invisible and odorless. The amount of natural gas in Russia is more than wherever in the world.

What is the composition of natural gas?

The base of natural gas is methane (CH4), the simplest hydrocarbon (organic compound consisting of carbon and hydrogen atoms). Normally, it also includes heavier hydrocarbons – methane homologs – such as ethane (C2H6), propane (C3H8), butane (C4H10), and some nonhydrocarbon admixtures.

Natural gas can exist in the form of gas fields in formations of some rocks, as gas caps (above crude oil), and in dissolved or crystalline forms.

Gas odor

It is worth mentioning that none of the above-named gases has color or odor. Typical unpleasant smell, which almost everybody knows from everyday life, is added to gas deliberately and is called “odorization”. Sulfur compounds are usually used as odorants, i.e. substances with unpleasant smells. Humans can smell one of the most common odorants – ethanethiol – even if one part of this substance is dissolved in 50 million parts of air. Gas leaks can be easily identified exactly due to the odorization.

Stage of adding an odorant
with an unpleasant odor.
Natural gas without odor
Natural gas
with an unpleasant odor

Academic dispute

There is no shared opinion on the origin of natural gas (just as on that of crude oil) among scientists. Two main concepts – biogenic and mineral – state different factors for the formation of hydrocarbon fossil minerals in the Earth subsurface.

Mineral theory

Formation of fossil minerals in rock beds is a part of the Earth degassing process. Due to the internal dynamics of the Earth, hydrocarbons at great depths raise to areas of the lowest pressure, resulting in formation of gas and crude oil deposits.

Biogenic theory

Living organisms that had died and sunk to bottoms of water bodies, then decomposed in the vacuum. Sinking deeper and deeper due to geological movements, residues of decomposed organics turned into hydrocarbon fossil mineral, including natural gas due to thermobaric factors (temperature and pressure).


Invisible pores

There is a false idea that gas is located under ground in cavities from where it can be easily and completely extracted. In fact, gas can be inside a rock with such fine porous structures that the human eye can’t see. Holding a piece of sandstone mined from a huge depth, it is rather difficult to believe that there’s natural gas inside it.

Worshipping gas

The humankind has known about the existence of natural gas for a long time. Although people learnt to use it for heating and lighting as far back as the 4th century A.D., luminous flame, leaving no ashes, remained a mystic and religious cult of some peoples for a good while. For instance, fire-worshippers’ temple Ateshgyakh, where ministrations took place up to the 19th century, was built on the Apsheron Peninsula (currently, Azerbaijan) in the 7th century..

By the way, first attempt (quite short-term) to use natural gas for commercial purposes in Russia was made not far from Ateshgyakh, at an oil refinery in Baku, in 1859.

Thermal lamp and first gas in Russia

History of the Russian gas industry dates back to 1811. At that time, an inventor Pyotr Sobolevsky created a thermal lamp – the first device for generating synthetic gas. Having reported about it at a meeting of the All-Russian Society of Philology, Science and Arts, Sobolevsky was awarded a medal for his invention by Decree of Tsar Alexander I of Russia. A few years later, in 1819, first gas lanterns were lighted on the Aptekarsky Island in Saint Petersburg. Thus, the history of the Russian gas industry began almost 200 years ago. Its anniversary was in 2011.

In the mid 1920s, 227.7 million cubic meters of gas were produced in the USSR. In 2010, Gazprom Group produced 508.6 billion cubic meters of gas.

Russia has the world’s largest natural gas reserves. Gazprom’s share accounts for about 70 per cent of these reserves. Thus, Gazprom has the largest natural gas reserves in the world.

Russian gas industry experienced a period of active growth from early 20th century: gas fields were developed for the first time; and the associated (petroleum) gas was utilized.

Russian wit

However, until the 20th century in Russia natural gas was a by-product of crude oil production called “associated gas”. Notions of gas or gas condensate fields didn’t even exist. They were discovered accidentally such as during drilling of artesian wells. At that, we know of an inventive merchant from Saratov who built a glass plant and a brick yard in the location, where he was drilling for water but found gas instead. Manufacturers gradually began to realize that natural gas could be extremely useful.