commercial gas pipework- Natural Gas Pipeline

When Was The World’s First Natural Gas Pipeline Constructed?

Natural gas has been used as a source of energy since the dawn of the ancient civilizations, and today it supplies approximately half of the world’s energy needs. The ability to transport gas via commercial pipework revolutionised the way that we power businesses, industries, public services, and homes.

How is natural gas formed?

Natural gas forms over millions of years through the decomposition of organic matter that is buried beneath the surface of the earth, such as dead plants and marine organisms. Over time, the organic matter becomes buried by a layer of sediment. This causes pressure and heat to build up, initiating a change in the chemical composition of the material.

The resulting substance is known as kerogen, and as it becomes more deeply buried the temperature increases, causing further changes to take place. The organic molecules are broken down and release hydrocarbons, of which natural gas forms a part. 

Natural gas is primarily composed of methane, but it may also contain ethane, propane, and trace amounts of other gases. The exact composition of the gas may depend on its depth, geographical location, and type of organic matter. It accumulates in large underground reservoirs, and can also migrate towards the earth’s surface through layers of porous rock. 

When was natural gas first discovered?

There is evidence that natural gas was first observed seeping through the earth’s surface in around 1000 BC. Historians have drawn this conclusion because this is the date that the seat of the Oracle of Delphi was built on Mount Parnassus in Ancient Greece, where a natural ring of flame burned, although it was attributed to a divine source.

The first use of transported natural gas is thought to have occurred in China at around 500 BC. Evidence has been uncovered of bamboo pipelines being used to transport gas distances of up to 1,500km to provide fuel and light sources. Later on, the Persians transported natural gas to temples using clay pipelines fitted with basic valves. 

However, the first commercial use of gas began in Britain around the time of 1785, when natural gas from coal production was used to light street lamps and houses. The practice spread to the United States in 1816, although using this type of natural gas that is manufactured rather than naturally occurring is not particularly efficient.

The practice of drilling through the earth’s crust to extract natural gas first began in the USA in 1859, when a former railroad conductor named Colonel Edwin Drake dug a 69ft well in Titusville, Pennsylvania, and discovered reserves of oil and natural gas. Subsequently, a 5.5 mile gas pipeline was constructed to transport the gas to the nearest village.

The first well dug specifically to obtain natural gas was recorded in Fredonia, New York State, in 1821. A local businessman and landowner named William Hart noticed gas bubbles in a creek, and dug a 27 foot well. This led to the discovery of a reserve of natural gas which was transported via hollowed out logs to supply light and heat to local homes.

As a result, the Fredonia Gas Light Company was formed. However, there was still no formalised gas pipeline infrastructure and it took until the dawn of the electric era at the end of the 19th century for new uses for natural gas to be found. In 1885, Robert Bunsen invented what is now known as the Bunsen burner.

This is a device that mixes the correct balance of natural gas with air to create a flame that can safely be used for cooking and heating in the home. This greatly widened the potential uses for natural gas, and the first major commercial gas pipeline was constructed in 1891. It was 120 miles long, transporting gas from sources in Indiana to the city of Chicago.

Gas became used more widely in the manufacturing industry to operate machinery and power boilers. It was also used for a range of domestic purposes, such as ovens, stoves, and water heaters. The introduction of iron and steel pipes made it possible to extend the gas network underground across urban areas and across rough terrain.

This paved the way for further development, such as submarine pipelines and liquid gas pipelines, and gave rise to the extensive natural gas network we benefit from today.

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