A Brief History: Natural Gas
Natural gas has been in existence for millions of years. However, it wasn’t until 1938 that the U.S. government regulated this industry. Once a mystery to man, this strange black substance would sometimes be ignited by lighting strikes and in ancient civilizations fueled by superstitions and legends, these stories grew to out-of-this-world proportions.
One of the most famous ancient oil fires was located on Mount Parnassus in Greece. In 1,000 B.C., a flock of goat herders saw this and believed it was due to divine origin, ultimately building a temple over the site. Housing the Oracle of Delphi, the priestess who resided here proclaimed prophecies, which were inspired by the spiritual flame.
Prominent throughout oil rich lands, such as Greece, India and Persia, these unexplainable fires remained a mystery until 500 B.C., when the Chinese made a fascinating discovery. Forming crude pipelines from renewable bamboo, they transported this lucrative oil, boiling it with sea water to separate salt, ultimately making the water drinkable.
Britain commercialized oil use and natural gas in 1785, producing natural gas from a coal byproduct that was commonly used to light streetlights and houses.
Identified in America in 1816, natural gas was discovered near Lake Erie. In 1821, in Fredonia, New York, a well was dug to obtain gas. This 27-foot-well made William Hart famous, forever known as the “father of natural gas.” Eventually, the Fredonia Gas Light Company expanded on his work, forming the first American natural gas company.
Used nearly exclusively as a light source during the 19th century, the absence of modern pipeline infrastructure made natural gas transportation difficult. During this time most natural gas was produced from coal, in stark contrast to today’s ever-pumping oil wells. As electricity became more popular in the beginning of the 19th century, oil producers began looking for new uses for this crude substance.
Robert Bunsen, creator of the Bunsen burner, designed an innovative design that safely mixed natural gas with oxygen to form a flame. This could be used for heating and cooking, which eventually opened the world to an entirely new source of heat.
The first pipeline, constructed in 1891, was only 120 miles, carrying natural gas from central Indiana to the heart of Chicago. Rugged and not reliable, it wasn’t until after World War I that pipeline infrastructure began expansion. After World War II, techniques were far more sophisticated, allowing metallurgic, pipe rolling and welding advancements to generate reliable pipelines.
Regulated in 1938, the Natural Gas Act was passed, forbidding corporate monopolies on natural gas price fixing. Today, the U.S. government’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) heavily regulates the natural gas industry.
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