Methane Supplier to Richmond, Virginia

A colorless, odorless, tasteless, flammable gas.

Natural gas occurs in pockets below the earth’s surface in many places, at many depths throughout the US and Canada. In some places it can be found with petroleum, in others the gas exists without liquids. Likewise, its composition varies widely based on geology and location. Natural gas is generally considered a mixture of hydrocarbons including methane, ethane, propane, n-butane and iso-butane, along with nitrogen, carbon dioxide, traces of helium and contaminants like water and hydrogen sulfide.

In the infancy of the petroleum business, market demand centered on kerosene, a mixture of low density hydrocarbon liquids that could be refined from the light oils found in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Kerosene had replaced whale oil as a less expense alternative, especially in light of the declining sperm whale population. Refining crude oil left a heavy residual that had little value and was used as a simple lubricant or simply pouring it out as a means to keep the early gravel and dirt roads of the era stable. At the same time advances in steam engine and boiler technology allowed the design of significantly larger ships capable of higher speeds, but the limiting variable was sufficient coal storage onboard. Residual oil could prove to be an adequate boiler fuel if available in quantity, as the volume onboard could be less, and it burned without the residual ash that coal left. So, a market for what was viewed as refining waste was created. At the same time, the era’s internal combustion engines showed promise but required a higher energy fuel than kerosene. Natural gasoline was already available as a blend of c6-c9 compounds that were easily extracted together in the refining processes at the time, it burned well in this new technology too. And additional naturally occurring hydrocarbons could be easily added to increase the supply of this new product, quickly surpassing kerosene as the oil companies’ largest seller.

If the demand for this fuel continued at the same rate, the oil companies estimated that the then known resources would be depleted over a 10-20 year period. Petroleum was known to appear on the surface in parts of California, Wyoming and Texas, and the popular reasoning led the oil companies to expand exploration in these regions. The drilling at the time, though primitive, did identify certain mineral characteristics that seemed to be common in the oil bearing soils, and this led to exploration in geologically similar areas as well. As the exploration teams covered the continent, they reported the same phenomenon… many of the wells drilled only revealed large pockets of natural gas, some containing petroleum and many without. But what could be done with this gas? Some effort was made to collect it, compress it and push it through a pipeline, but the infrastructure cost was prohibitive, especially in 1930’s America.

Now move forward a bit to the Japanese takeover of the Dutch East Indies, reducing the natural rubber supply available to the US. A mechanism to synthesize rubber from butanes feedstock had been proven several years earlier, but was more costly than simply relying on imported natural rubber. With that supply curtailed, and the needs of World War II exponentially increasing demand for finished rubber goods, the synthetic rubber process moved to world scale production, and the need for butanes demanded a solution. This then simplified the entire development plan for natural gas that continues today. Natural gas was extracted in the large fields identified in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, collected and stripped of nitrogen, moisture, sulfur and carbon dioxide. These stripping stations also separated the c2 and higher hydrocarbons leaving a consistent supply of 93-98% methane that regularly provided 1000 BTU per cubic foot heating value. The c2-c4 fraction was transported separately, first by railcar and later by pipeline to distribution hubs, first to support the synthetic rubber business in the Houston area, and eventually supporting a feedstock requirement for an entire petrochemical industry.

Offering low-cost, consistently dry methane with a well-defined heating value created an entire utility business that stepped into both the manufactured gas and coal heating business in most cities and suburban areas over 10-15 year period, and the c2-c4 strippers then directly offered propane for heating and cooking in those areas remote from methane pipelines.

Methane (CH4) is the primary component of natural gas. Its use takes two directions: as a building block in the production of ammonia, methanol, ethanol, methyl chloride, chloroform and a variety of other chemicals, and as an energy source for heating, cooking and generation of electricity. CP Grade Methane is used to assure consistent heating content in pipeline gas, higher purities of Methane, like 99.99% are used for precision calibration of gas sources, as well as the preparation of complex natural gas and process gas mixtures needed for quality assurance and product intergrity for chemical and petrochemical plants

Grade 4 (99.99%) Methane is also blended into calibration gas mixes in auto emission monitoring, environmental emission monitoring, industrial hygiene monitors and trace impurity analyzers, as well as traditional P5 and P10 Methane in Argon gas mixtures used in Electron Capture Detectors used in trace chlorides analysis.