Natural Gas

Flame Lit -Part II – A limited micro-blog series of energy definitions and quick facts to help improve energy literacy

photo by najma m.

Natural Gas

Many of us heat our homes and hot water with natural gas. What is it anyway?

Natural gas is a light hydrocarbon. It’s mostly methane (CH4) but also contains small amounts of heavier gases like ethane and propane.

The gas we use in our homes, like all fossil fuels, was created millions of years ago when carbon sources (old plants and sea life) decayed and formed gas and oil under pressure.

It can also form on the surface anywhere natural materials decay including your local landfill and sewage plant!

Where does it come from? Most of the natural gas we use in Canada comes from Alberta (71%) and British Columbia (27%). [1] A small amount is produced in other regions and imported from the U.S. for regional supply balancing.

Natural gas is produced by drilling wells into the formations that contain it and then processing the gas to remove any impurities. It is then compressed into large pipelines called “transmission lines” and transported over long distances.

The gas is delivered to cities, towns, and your home through smaller pipelines at lower pressure.

The North American natural gas pipeline grid is extensive and can be viewed here. [2]

Some quick facts on natural gas produced and used in Canada:

  1. Canada produces 16.6 Bcf/d (billion cubic feet per day) of natural gas and exports about 45% of that to the U.S. [1]
  2. Five provinces from Ontario to B.C. use natural gas as the prime source for home heating – 51-79% of homes in this region rely on gas. [3] Quebec, the Atlantic provinces, and Territories use little or none at all.
  3. Canadian Natural Gas consumption: 29% residential, 19% commercial, and 55% industrial (includes electrical production). [1]
  4. Natural gas contributes to greenhouse gas emissions from the production cycle through to end use in homes and businesses.
  5. Natural gas is used for heating in about half of US homes.[4]

Next: Your Home Furnace Basics

Sources and more information can be found in these links:

[1] Natural Gas Facts (

[2] North American Natural Gas Pipeline Grid: cnd-fg05-lg-eng.png (2200×1700) (

[3] CER – What is in a Canadian residential natural gas bill? (

[4] Use of natural gas – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)

Alisa Caswell has a degree in chemical engineering. She spent twenty years working in the oil and gas industry, including roles in business development, operations and energy conservation. You can follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.