August 2004
From the Well to the Tap

With the added convenience of having a natural gas supply into your home or business, you may not think about where the natural gas comes from or even how it's produced.

The next two issues of The Walton EMC Gasette will explain more about natural gas. You'll take an in-depth look at the production, transmission and distribution processes of natural gas, all the way from the well to your natural gas connection, or tap as it's called.

Have you ever thought about where your natural gas supply comes from? It's produced from natural gas wells, oil wells or coal-seam gas.

Many natural gas wells are located offshore near Mobile, Alabama, also known as the Destin Dome. The Destin Dome has a large salt cap containing a supply of natural gas.

Most of the natural gas supplied by Walton EMC Natural Gas (WEMCNG) comes from the Destin Dome. Otherwise, the natural gas is sent from wells in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Currently, natural gas reserves haven't been discovered in Georgia.

Natural gas is found in coal-seam gas in parts of Northern Alabama. Coal-seam gas is seams of gas found in beds of coal.

Natural gas is also located in oil wells in the form of bubbles. When the well contains oil, the natural gas must be separated from the oil. The oil gets transported through pipelines to an oil refinery where it's heated through a cracking process. As the oil is heated, the layers are broken down into its separate forms like kerosene, diesel and crude oil. The bottom layers consist of liquids heavier than gasoline, while the lighter-end gases are found in the top layers.

Propane, butane and pentanes in the oil are also broken down at the oil refinery. These gases combined form natural gas. Its energy is measured in British thermal units (BTU). BTU is the amount of heat it takes to raise the temperature of one pound of pure water one degree Fahrenheit.

When measuring BTU, it varies depending on how much propane and methane is present. Natural gas is lighter than air, but includes propane, which is heavier than air.

Independent contractors and large drilling companies perform the drilling in oil and natural gas wells. Large drilling companies provide most of WEMCNG natural gas supplies.

Natural gas can be labeled during production as "sweet" or "sour." "Sweet" gas doesn't contain a lot of sulfur dioxide, and "sour" gas contains high levels. "Sour" natural gas is sweetened to remove the sulfur dioxide content.

Before transporting the natural gas, most gas rigs have the capability to remove the sulfur. While the smaller rigs are automated without anyone on board, larger gas rigs are manned.

Since natural gas is a hydrocarbon fuel, pricing is extremely volatile. Hydrocarbon fuels have a similar relationship to oil. Volatility in the natural gas markets is caused by countries in the Middle East providing U.S. oil supplies.

If oil prices are high, natural gas prices are usually high. Natural gas is traded as a commodity on the New York Mercantile Exchange along with coal, propane and other commodities. To learn more, go to www.nymex.com.

Following the production of natural gas, it's transmitted to central take points, moved by gathering lines to certain hubs, where it's delivered to interstate pipelines. Find out how natural gas is transmitted and distributed in the next issue of The Walton EMC Gasette .

To learn more about the production of natural gas, visit the American Gas Association's website at www.aga.org.

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