A Short History of Natural Gas

natural gas pipeline

Natural gas has been shaping humanity for a long time. In the early days of recorded history, ancient Persians were inspired to worship fires sparked by lightning in natural gas seeps in Iran.

In Greece, the flames of the “unquenchable fire” in Delphi are credited to a natural gas fault just below the famous temple. It was there that the Delphic Oracle spoke of her visions, which helped believers determine when to plant crops or go to war. New theories suggest the Oracle’s insight may have been due to breathing in the natural gas fumes.

Centuries later, the Chinese had figured out a crude way to pipe natural gas through bamboo. The gas was stored in barrels and used as fuel to boil seawater. This helped them extract the salt, which became an important trade item.

In the late 1700s, Britain became the first country to commercialize natural gas, though this resource didn’t come from underground. Britain made its gas artificially from coal. It was used to light houses and streetlights.

America, too, was beginning to discover the good of natural gas at about this time. In 1816, Baltimore, Maryland, became the first U.S. city to light its streets this way with gas imported from Britain.

A few years later, William Hart became the first to harvest natural gas in the U.S. when he dug a shallow well in Fredonia, New York. Hart’s efforts inspired the creation of the Fredonia Gas Light Company. Founded in 1858, it was the first natural gas company in America.

In 1885, Robert Bunsen created a burner that mixed air with natural gas. The device, a Bunsen burner, allowed gas to be used to heat homes, cook and run other appliances. It was also adapted to industrial settings. As gas line infrastructure was put into place, natural gas became more and more common in the U.S. as a source of energy. And its popularity continues to grow.

Today, natural gas generates 33 percent of the electricity in the U.S. And that number is expected to rise as coal is gradually phased out as a source of energy. Natural gas is relatively inexpensive and clean burning. Combined with renewables like solar and wind power, natural gas becomes a big part of creating a sustainable future.