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August 2012 - Posts

  • Facts About the Natural Gas Industry

    Every time we turn on a washing machine or stove, or check the water heater to make sure the temperature is set, we probably don’t give thought to what powers the things that bring convenience to our lives. Many homeowners may think electricity runs the show, but for many it is natural gas that keeps the lights glowing and the fires burning.

    Quick Facts About Natural Gas and the Gas Industry

    • Refined natural gas burns cleanly, and is mined from the ground through a process called “fracking.” Here rock layers in the earth are fractured to release the gas for extraction.
    • According to the Natural Gas Caucus, natural gas accounts for powering nearly a quarter of the electricity and power vehicles in the United States. The International Energy Agency reports that natural gas represents about twenty-two percent of global energy in use.
    • Natural gas is one of the most versatile power resources in the world, and produces less emissions than other fuels.
    • Pacific Gas and Electric Company reports that of the natural gas used annually, the United States and Russia combined use roughly half.

    Top Exporters and Importers of Natural Gas

    Each year, over seven hundred billion cubic meters of this fuel are exported around the world. The World Factbook currently lists the following countries as the lead exporters:

    • Russia – Russia is home to some of the largest natural gas reserves in the world. A good percentage of their output is sent to Europe to power heat and electricity.
    • Canada – The United States is perhaps Canada’s largest customer when it comes to this resource, as nearly all of the US’s natural gas imports come from their northern neighbors.
    • Norway – Norway’s major partners in this trade include Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Belgium. Sales over the last two decades have more than doubled, according to the Norweigan Petroleum Directorate.
    • Algeria – Algeria exports almost exclusively petroleum and gas. The United States, Spain, and Canada rank among their top trade partners.
    • Qatar – The bulk of Qatar’s national revenues comes from sales of gas extracted from their reserves. Japan and Korea rank among their largest trade partners.

    The CIA World Factbook lists the United States, Germany, Japan, Italy and France among the top importers of this resource. Collectively, they take in over four hundred billion cubic meters annually.  

    Challenges in the Natural Gas Industry

    While natural gas is considered a cleaner burning fuel than most resources, environmentalists are concerning that the method of extracting this resource – fracking – may do more harm than good in the future. Researchers from Cornell University have proposed that in the next twenty years, methane released during fracking into the atmosphere could contribute to problems associated with global warming. Some have even contributed pollution and earthquakes to this activity, and protests against fracking have increased in recent months. Experts in the natural gas industry, however, have dismissed such claims that extraction is endangering the planet.

    As more states and countries approve of extraction of natural gas, one may find the percentage of use growing in the future. Natural gas not only powers homes and plants, but some makes of automobiles and vehicles operate on this fuel. As the diversity of usage grows, so does the probability of this resource becoming a highly valuable export.

    by Kathryn Lively

  • The Global Coal Industry – Fueling the World

    When you think of coal, likely the images of production come to mind. In the United States, one may depict the industry as supported by small towns in the Appalachian area, with coal dug and hauled by men who brave mines deep in the earth. Indeed, coal mining is not the cleanest job in the world, but the industry remains one of the most important for as long as the resources are still available.


    When converted to gas or liquid state, coal is used to produce a type of fuel for producing heat and electricity. Bituminous coal, a dark and hard substance which is more common in the US, is used to create coke for the production of steel. According to the World Coal Institute, among the global coal reserves we have enough resources to last through the next century.

    Quick Facts About the Coal Industry

    • According to the World Coal Association, coal provided nearly a third of the planet’s overall energy needs and helped produce almost half of the world’s electricity output. In 2011, over 7,600 metric tons of coal were mined and produced around the world, almost double the production two decades prior.
    • In 2011, China topped the list among the world’s top coal producers, yielding more metric tons than the United States, India, and Australia combined.
    • According to the National Mining Association, coal is one of the most inexpensive sources of power. The cost of coal power is approximately half of that of natural gas.
    • The United States alones produces an average of $20 billion worth of coal. (Source: EIA)

    Top Exporters of Coal

    The World Coal Association has reported the following numbers for 2011, noting the increase of overall production by nearly seven percent from 2010:

    • Indonesia – 309 metric tons produced in 2011. The Jakarta Globe reports that the country expects to see mining rise by more than five percent next year.
    • Australia – 284 metric tons produced in 2011.  Japan received the bulk of Australia’s output.
    • Russia – 124 metric tons produced in 2011. Prime Minister Putin is reported to have pledged to support the industry with an $8 billion grant for development.
    • United States – 97 metric tons produced in 2011. The National Mining Association reports that 136,000 people are employed directly in the industry, which is responsible for creating jobs elsewhere in the country.
    • Colombia – 75 metric tons produced in 2011. Colombia expects to see production rise by nearly twenty percent in the coming year.

    Challenges in the Coal Industry

    Two of the largest challenges the coal industry faces concern safety – namely for the environment and the people directly involved in mining and production. Since 2006, fifty-one people were killed in coal mining accidents across the United States, and for many miners who do manage to retire there is the risk of black lung disease, which is contracted after years of inhaling coal dust. The memory of the 2010 Chilean mining accident and subsequent rescue (though the mine in question was not for coal), continues to raise questions of safe working conditions for miners.

    Another challenge involves making coal a cleaner source of energy. Emissions produced from burning coal risk damage to the environment and may increase global warming effects. While new methods of extracting gas from coal have helped reduce pollution, critics of coal maintain that the resource is not a hundred percent clean.

    Add to this the fact that coal is not a renewable source of energy, meaning it does not replenish after mining, and the coal industry faces its greatest challenge in what to do when there is nothing left to mine. The EIA reports that the US alone may have enough reserves to last over 200 years – how it is used in the future, however, will determine how long we can make it last.

    by Kathryn Lively