Cold weather brings many things: snow, cautious travels, and rising natural gas prices. The colder the weather, the higher natural gas consumption. About half of the households in the U.S use natural gas as their primary heating fuel, so many businesses and private homes turn their indoor heating on as the outdoor weather gets colder.
With natural gas having limited short-term alternatives, prices reflect the changes in supply as well as demand. A decrease in the supply will push prices up, and most likely discourage production and sales from storage inventories. An increase in the supply will do the exact opposite.
The winter weather will raise the demand for heating, as the summer will bring the need for cooling. This winter has brought many spontaneous storms and unpredictable weather, which results in even higher prices for natural gas, as there was not enough time for the supply to react.
With the cold temperatures this season, it’s important to keep an eye out for wellhead freeze-offs. What exactly is a freeze-off? The natural gas coming up the well pipe includes moisture. When the temperatures outside drop below freezing, the moisture will freeze at the surface, if not properly insulated.
Thankfully, natural gas has kept up with the severe winter storms this season through their consistent production. Hopefully Groundhog’s Day will reveal that we only have a few short weeks to go!
Natural gas is the most popular fuel in the United States. Around 56 percent of US households are heated by natural gas. Thinking about converting your home? It’s not as strenuous as it sounds. We’ve broken the process down to five steps. The good news is, most of these steps are done by professionals, all you have to do is make the decision to convert and hire a reliable contractor.
Follow this step by step guide to converting your home to natural gas:
- Check for gas availability in your area: You can do this by going online or calling your gas company. Ask every question you can think of. Make sure you ask if installation of the service line is free, because it usually is. Don’t make any assumptions about this process; it’s a big project and you’re going to want to know everything that’s going to happen to your home.
- Inquire about options and offers: Talk to your heating contractor about equipment options and special offers. Ask about a furnace for heat and a boiler for hot water. These appliances are generally $1,500 to $3,000; which is a bargain compared to oil systems, which could cost up to $8,000.
- Map it out: Your utility company will come map out your property to find the optimal route for the new gas service. They will identify your phone, sewer, water and electrical lines. In addition, you should mark where any underground sprinklers, septic and oil tanks are.
- Installation of the service line: It’s time for the service line to be installed from the street to your home. Make sure you ask your company what their services include regarding your yard. Most companies will fill in holes they’ve dug; however, they aren’t responsible for lawn care. Find out what they will do once the project is complete.
- Equipment Installation: This is one of the very last steps in converting your home to natural gas. All gas equipment (i.e. your furnace) will be installed in your home.
Sometimes there are special permits that you need in order to convert your home. You’re heating contractor/utility company will take care of this for you. They will figure out what needs to be done prior to installing your equipment. If there is gas near your property, installations can take up to four to six weeks, depending on the permit approval process.
You are sure to save money in the long run by switching your home to natural gas. Check out our other blogs for more information about the benefits of natural gas.
Natural gas may seem like an old-school way to fuel your home’s appliances, but we are here to tell you otherwise. Some people choose to run on electric because they think it’s cheaper and more eco-friendly. It is true that electric appliances can be less expensive initially, but it’s actually costing them more in the long run. According to the United States Department of Energy, natural gas costs 68 percent less, so long as you already have gas lines leading to your appliances. You can see how this would save you money as time goes on.
You may be wondering if natural gas is bad for the environment and we can assure the contrary. Natural gas is considered the cleanest fossil fuel; it is efficient, reliable, economic and environmentally friendly. In fact, natural gas air conditioning is becoming more popular because it is eco-friendly and efficient. It cools your home faster than any other form of air conditioning.
On the warmer side of things, natural gas furnaces have been around much longer and have a popular following because they are known to heat your house quicker than the other methods. The American Gas Association found that 56 percent of U.S. households use natural gas heating.
Other natural gas-powered appliances include water heaters, stoves, dryers, fire places and grills. People prefer gas water heaters for constant hot water and they prefer gas stoves for precision cooking. You can always count on a gas appliance in your home.
With natural gas fueled appliances comes great responsibility. Make sure you are keeping your home safe by having your appliances checked regularly. Keep combustible items away from gas appliances to prevent fires and never keep flammable products in the same room or near appliances that produce heat.
If you have further questions about the safety of your gas appliances, you can contact your gas company or refer to Walton Gas’ other blog posts.
You’ve made the smart choice in installing a natural gas detector and you’re set. So, what happens when that alarm actually goes off? Like any other potential emergency, it’s advised that you have a plan in place in case of a natural gas leak. Write down what you would do, who you would call and how you would stay safe in this situation. Make sure your entire family knows the emergency plan and where to find it. In addition to having a plan, you should have your natural gas sources checked regularly—Federal Safety Standards require gas companies to complete inspections—so make sure you’re taking them up on that.
Here are the “dos and don’ts” in case your natural gas alarm goes off.
- DON’T: Don’t panic! These detectors are made to go off before dangerous amounts of gas are built up. They are rated according to what they call “Lower Explosive Limit” or “LEL.” This phrase refers to the percentage of gas that has built up in your home. The detector is meant to go off before it reaches a dangerous percentage so if it’s going off, you should still be safe.
- DO: Turn all gas appliances off and put out any fire that may be burning in your home—candles, fireplaces, cigarettes and the like.
- DON’T: Don’t touch or use any electrical equipment, including light switches. If necessary, you will need to use battery-operated flashlights. This being said, you shouldn’t unplug any appliances—natural gas is highly flammable and you wouldn’t want to start a fire in your home.
- DO: Open all of your windows and doors to let the gas disperse.
If you have done everything you can do and your alarm is still going off, then you should leave your house and unplug the main gas line. Next, you will need to call your fire department and your gas company. It is helpful if you have had these numbers in your cell phone or in your car so you don’t have to search your house during an emergency.
If you have done everything above and your alarm turns off, it’s still a good idea to get your house inspected to find the leak.
Check out our other Walton Gas blogs to learn more about natural gas!
Natural gas power plants are a highly efficient form of power plant that is used to generate electricity. They have many advantages over other power plants.
There are three forms of natural gas power plants. These are steam generation, simple cycle and combined cycle.
Steam generation power plants use natural gas to heat water and the resulting steam to spin a turbine that generates electricity. They are about 35% efficient in converting heat to electricity.
Simple cycle power plants burn natural gas and use the byproducts to rotate the turbine. They are useful during periods of high demand for electricity because they can be started up quickly, and are about 35-40% efficient.
Combined cycle power plants use both simple cycle turbines and a heat recovery steam generator. The heat recovery steam generator makes use of waste heat to maximize the efficiency of the process. Combined cycle power plants are approximately 60% efficient.
Natural gas simple cycle and combined cycle power plants are considerably more efficient than solid fuel power plants. Coal power plants rarely exceed 40% efficiency, and even the most advanced plants do not exceed 50%. Nuclear power plants operate at less than 35% efficiency.
Natural gas power plants do produce carbon dioxide, but they are far more environmentally friendly than solid fuel power plants. Air pollution from coal power plants is responsible for approximately 13,000 premature deaths in the U.S. each year. Nuclear power plants produce radioactive waste that has catastrophic consequences if it escapes containment, and must be stored securely for thousands of years.
Natural gas power plants can also be built much more swiftly than solid fuel power plants. Depending on the form of plant, they take between 18 and 36 months to build. The comparable construction time for solid fuel plants, however, is approximately 72 months.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a method of natural gas and oil extraction. The fracking process involves drilling into shale rock formations and injecting a high pressure mixture of water, chemicals and sand to release natural gas and oil. Recent technological advances have made fracking far more efficient and economical, so its use has increased rapidly in the past decade. However, it is a somewhat controversial method of extraction. Here is an overview of the pros and cons of fracking.
Until just a few years ago, the U.S. was heavily reliant on foreign suppliers for natural gas and oil. Yet the rapid increase in fracking has dramatically decreased that need. We are currently predicted to become a net exporter of oil and natural gas by 2020.
A key benefit of fracking has been the very large decreases in prices of natural gas and oil on account of increased supply, which has been a boon for consumers.
Fracking is also a source of many jobs, both directly in the industry and indirectly in terms of supporting workers. Estimates vary widely on the total number of jobs supported by fracking, but one widely cited figure holds that fracking is responsible for 360,000 jobs directly and 1.7 million jobs indirectly.
Some critics of fracking argue that it is responsible for earthquakes and seismic instability. While there is a grain of truth to these claims, they are often hugely exaggerated. Although it is true that fracking has caused an increase in the frequency of minor seismic events, the vast majority of these have been too small to be detected by humans without using specialized equipment. There have been no recorded injuries or fatalities as a result of seismic events caused by fracking.
Critics argue that fracking has caused contamination of groundwater near to drilling sites with substances such as methane. There is some evidence to suggest that limited groundwater contamination has taken place as a result of fracking operations in some places. However, similarly to claims regarding seismic events, these are often highly exaggerated.
Like every industrial process, fracking can have some limited negative effects. Yet these are vastly outweighed by its positive impact on natural gas and oil prices, jobs and national security.
Natural gas is the most widely used fuel for electricity generation in the United States; it is used to generate approximately 25% of the electricity consumed in the country. In contrast to other solid fuels used to generate electricity, natural gas is relatively clean burning.
While historically the majority of electricity generation using natural gas has taken place in large, capital-intensive facilities, in recent years there has been a trend toward distributed generation. This refers to local generation on a smaller scale in residential, industrial and commercial areas of demand.
There are three forms of natural gas power plants that are used to generate electricity.
Simple cycle plants burn natural gas, which converts the gas into high-pressure gaseous by-products that are used to turn the turbine, thus generating electricity. Simple cycle plants can be started up at short notice, so they are used extensively to ramp up production during periods of peak demand. However, they are only about 35% efficient in converting heat to electricity. For this reason, simple cycle plants are mostly used to accommodate periods of peak demand.
Combined cycle plants work in the same way as simple cycle plants, but they also make use of a heat recovery steam generator to recover more of the heat generated. Combined cycle plants are 55-60% efficient.
Steam powered plants heat water using natural gas, and the steam drives a turbine that generates electricity. This is similar to the way in which coal power plants and nuclear power plants work. Steam powered plants are approximately 35-40% efficient.
For the purposes of comparison, coal power plants are typically about 40% efficient. There have been some advancements in coal power plant technology, but even the most advanced models do not exceed 50% efficiency. Nuclear power plants are only approximately 33% efficient. Given that the majority of electricity produced by natural gas in the U.S. is generated in combined cycle plants, on average it is much more efficient than these alternatives.
Fracking, which is also termed "hydraulic fracturing", is a method used to obtain natural gas and oil. It is currently the mode of extraction for approximately 50% of the oil and gas produced in the United States. There are 360,000 people employed in fracking in the U.S., and the domestic fracking industry supports a total of approximately 1.7 million jobs.
The fracking process begins with drilling into shale rock to create a well. This can be done either vertically or horizontally to the rock layer.
Next, a blend of chemicals, water and silicon dioxide (sand) is injected into the rock at high pressure. This pushes gas and oil to flow outwards toward the exit (known as the 'head') of the well for collection and distribution.
Recent advances in fracking technologies have caused a very large increase in accessible domestic reserves of oil and natural gas. For this reason, there has been a major increase in the use of fracking in the past few years. It is partly responsible for the boom in domestic natural gas and oil production.
Fracking also provides significant benefits in terms of national security. As little as five years ago, the U.S. was heavily dependent on foreign suppliers of oil and natural gas. Today, we are approaching energy independence, and expect to be a net exporter of natural gas by 2017.
Fracking also has a large role in the low prices for oil and natural gas that consumers currently enjoy. As of late 2015, natural gas prices are at the lowest they have been for 13 years.
The Atlanta Gas Light pipeline allows natural gas providers such as Walton Gas to deliver efficient and affordable natural gas to customers across Georgia and several of its bordering states. Under the operation of the natural gas wholesaler Atlanta Gas Light, the pipeline delivers reliable natural gas to customers across 243 communities across the state of Georgia, supplying more than 1.6 million homes, businesses, and industrial facilities with clean, efficient energy.
The Atlanta Gas Light pipeline has a rich history going back over 150 years, when the Atlanta Gas Light Company began operations. Today, the pipeline is the heart of the south-east US's largest natural gas distribution network. The pipeline has also stood at the forefront of innovation and renewal efforts, with the recent completion of a 15-year Pipeline Replacement Program; one of the first comprehensive gas pipeline replacement efforts in the nation, the program replaced nearly 3,000 miles of bare steel pipe across Georgia.
In recent years, efforts have begun to renew the pipeline infrastructure, through measures such as Georgia STRIDE, a multi-phase project which endeavors to upgrade and expand the pipeline to meet the growth of the rapidly-growing Atlanta metropolitan area. There is also the Vintage Plastic Replacement Program, which endeavors to replace nearly 800 miles of aging plastic pipe installed in the 60s, 70s, and early 80s with newer, longer-lasting, safer plastic pipes. Other efforts aim to make the pipeline more effective in delivering energy during peak hours, and to locations furthest removed from the natural supply points which fuel the pipeline.
There are numerous variables that influence the prices and stores of natural gas. Some of the most important of these are detailed below.
Weather and Seasonal Factors
Since over half of homes in the United States use natural gas to provide heating during the winter months, this substantial increase in demand causes a steep rise in prices in the winter, and reduces the levels in storage.
Cold weather in winter can also decrease the supply of natural gas. For example, wellheads can freeze solid when the temperature in a gas producing field falls below freezing, which can cause substantial falls in supply and increases in prices.
Curiously, since many power plants burn natural gas as a fuel, hot summer months, with the high demand for air conditioning, also cause high demand for natural gas and reduce the levels in storage.
Since natural gas is a commodity, demand is closely linked to economic growth. Economic growth has an immediate knock-on effect on prices; as a general rule, higher economic growth causes rises in price and falls in stores while lower economic growth causes falls in price and rises in stores.
The distribution of people within the United States has a major effect on prices and stores. An increasing proportion of the population live in southern and western states, which tend to have higher average temperatures. The resulting increased demand for cooling in summer further increases prices and decreases stores of natural gas at that time of year; decreased demand for heating in winter decreases prices and increases stores at that time of year in those areas.