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According to the American Gas Association, 63 million residences—or about 52 percent of American households—rely on natural gas for their energy needs. In fact, natural gas provides about 24 percent of the nation’s energy. Over the next two decades, natural gas use is expected to double.

What is natural gas?

The cleanest-burning fossil fuel, natural gas can heat and cool your home, light your street and dry your clothes—all at the same time. This multi-use energy source is found deep underground, often near coal and oil. The raw form of natural gas that we use for energy is called methane. Other substances found in natural gas, such as butane, propane and ethane, are removed before natural gas reaches our homes and businesses.

How was natural gas created?

The natural gas we use was formed millions of years ago when organic matter was buried in the earth and ocean floor. Over time, thick layers of mud, sand, silt and rock settled over the matter, pushing it deeper and deeper into the earth’s crust. As the layers of matter built up, pressure and heat from the shifting surface of the earth filled the resulting cracks and crevices with oil and natural gas.

Is natural gas safe?

Yes! Natural gas has a very limited range of flammability. This means that it takes just the right mixture of air and natural gas before it can burn. Also, natural gas is lighter than air, so it usually will safely rise and disperse into the air if it is allowed to vent freely. Even with this in mind, it is very important to understand natural gas and to be aware of safety tips concerning its use. Most incidents occur because of lack of knowledge, not because natural gas itself is unsafe.

Good news! According to the American Gas Association, safety-related incidents involving natural gas have decreased 29 percent since 1988, even though the use of natural gas has risen 20 percent during that same time period.

What gives natural gas its rotten-egg-like odor?

In its purest state, natural gas is odorless, colorless and tasteless. A harmless chemical (the most common is mercaptan) is added to natural gas to make it smell and easier to detect. Many people describe the odor of this additive as similar to rotten eggs. In concentrated form, the smell of this odorant is almost unbearable, and it only takes a very small amount to give natural gas its telltale odor. Odorants do not affect the potency or effectiveness of natural gas.

Is natural gas expensive?

On average, natural gas costs much less than other forms of energy, and it is the least expensive method for heating and cooking. The higher efficiency and lower price of natural gas can significantly reduce your annual energy bills.

How does natural gas affect the environment?

Natural gas is the cleanest, most efficient fossil fuel—and a key energy source for reducing pollution and maintaining a healthy environment. When natural gas is used in place of other fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by as much as 50 percent. Increased use of natural gas could also help with other environmental concerns, including smog and acid rain. In addition, power plants often rely on natural gas to meet strict air-quality requirements.

How does natural gas get to my home or business?

Gas companies use huge pipelines to transfer natural gas to communities nationwide. Around 2 million miles of underground pipes are used for this amazing delivery system. Once harvested, cleaned and processed, natural gas travels under pressure through these pipelines at about 15 miles per hour.

After the natural gas reaches a gate station, the pressure is reduced and the odorant is added (giving it that all-too-familiar rotten egg smell). The gas then moves through plastic and steel pipes to neighborhoods and flows into narrow service lines for homes and businesses.

How does my gas company know how much gas I use?

You’ll have to look around outside your home or building to find your gas meter. It has a row of four dials on its face and two additional dials underneath those four. The pointers on the dials record the amount of energy you’re using in hundreds of cubic feet. Your gas provider charges you for the “therms” you use, based on the cubic feet your meter is recording. “Therms” represent the amount of heat that the gas can produce, or its BTU (British thermal unit). To put it simply, the fewer therms that you use each month, the lower your gas bill will be—and vice versa.

IT’S BEST TO BE SAFE: If you suspect a natural gas leak RIGHT NOW—don't touch or turn off your computer—leave the area! After you go someplace safe, call your natural gas company or 911.