Learn about whether natural gas is a renewable resource or not, and how you can make sure your home is powered sustainably.
Energy sources are typically broken into two categories, renewable and nonrenewable. The energy sources we refer to as renewable are those that come from sources that can be replenished quickly and easily, such as wind, sunlight, and water.
Renewable energy is being hailed as a pivotal resource from an environmental standpoint, and an increasing number of companies, organizations, and governmental bodies are placing more emphasis on using these cleaner energy sources.
Energy sources that are not renewable come from sources that cannot be replenished, such as coal and oil, which are quickly running out. (If you’re ready to take steps to reduce your own reliance on nonrenewable and harmful sources, click here.)
What is natural gas?
Natural gas is a gas that forms naturally beneath the earth’s surface and is primarily made up of methane and other hydrocarbons such as nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Like other fossil fuels, it's formed from organic matter that died millions of years ago.
Natural gas is found in large deposits deep below the earth's surface, farther down than oil, so it’s particularly difficult to extract and often harms the environment to do so.
Is natural gas renewable or nonrenewable?
This depends on where exactly the natural gas comes from. Natural gas as we traditionally view it is not renewable, but its level of sustainability is dependent on where it comes from. There are three types of natural gas:
Abiogenic methane - this form of oil and gas did not originate from fossil deposits. Instead, it came from deep, hydrogen-rich carbon deposits that have been present since the formation of the Earth.
Biogenic methane - this is created in landfills, on farms that keep cows, and wherever organic matter is present. Microorganisms called methanogens live off of decaying organic matter, and excrete methane in the process.
Thermogenic methane - this is created when mud and rock sediment put the remains of animals and plants under huge amounts of pressure. This process takes place at extremely high temperatures and takes millions of years to complete.
Of these three types of methane, biogenic is the only one that could be considered renewable, though it comes at the expense of other processes that cause global warming. The others, despite causing 20% less damage than other fossil fuels, are damaging to extract and are expected to run out in the next 50 years.
Why is natural gas not renewable?
Technically, natural gas can be considered partially renewable. Certain elements of natural gas are replenishable, whereas others are not. The nonrenewable gas extracted from deep beneath the earth takes millions of years to form, and will take another millennia to reform.
How is natural gas produced?
Natural gas, like oil, is formed from decomposed organic matter that is derived from marine microorganisms deposited over the past few hundred million years. It is then extracted from the earth and refined, which creates the different types of gas (such as propane and butane) that we use today.
Where does natural gas come from?
Natural gas comes from organic matter (such as animals, plants, and microorganisms) that died millions of years ago and mixed with earth and sand beneath the sea, which was gradually buried over time. In an anaerobic environment (without oxygen) the pressure and heat builds up and the organic matter breaks down, eventually forming gas.
How bad is natural gas for the environment?
If we only consider vehicle emissions, natural gas emits between 15% and 20% less heat-trapping gasses than gasoline when burned to power today’s typical car. But cars aren’t the only things damaging the environment. Natural gas is extracted from wells, and the drilling and transportation of the gas through pipelines result in a significant amount of methane leakage. This primary component of natural gas is 34 times stronger than CO2 at trapping heat over a decade-long period, which is bad news for climate change.
As mentioned earlier, natural gas does burn cleaner than other fossil fuels. Natural gas produces minor amounts of mercury, sulfur, and other particles and burning natural gas produces nitrogen oxides, which can contribute to the creation of smog, but does so on a much smaller scale than gasoline and diesel.
In short, natural gas isn’t the best option when it comes to choosing energy sources, but it could also be a lot worse.
Can we make natural gas?
It is still hard to say whether or not it's realistic to create a man-made form of natural gas. This is partly because the process of fossilization takes such a vast amount of time, and partly because it is unclear whether an increase in the production of landfills and cattle farms would be viable in the long term. In theory, it could be possible over a long period, but would continue to harm the environment in the process, which isn’t worth it when clean renewable sources such as solar, hydro, and wind power can produce electricity to replace it.
How is renewable natural gas produced?
Biogas, or biomethane, usually consists of carbon dioxide and methane. It is cleaned and conditioned so that any non-methane elements are removed or reduced to produce renewable natural gas, or RNG. This RNG is processed in a way that means it is interchangeable with traditional, safe pipeline-quality natural gas.
What are the pros and cons of natural gas?
Natural gas is a cleaner option than other fossil fuels and is often referred to as a step toward renewable energy. It’s relatively cheap and is great for job creation, to the tune of 2.8 million jobs in the U.S.
The bad news is that it is still a greenhouse gas, even if it doesn’t remain in the atmosphere as long as CO2 does. It’s less than ideal for the environment, both directly and indirectly, due to methane leaks.
What is the difference between renewable and nonrenewable?
When we talk about the impact of different energy sources, we are usually thinking about the long term. For this reason, the most attractive sources of energy are the ones that will last for generations to come. Renewable energy sources usually come from naturally occurring elements such as wind, water, sunshine, and organic matter.
Nonrenewable energy sources are those that will eventually deplete and cease to exist as viable options. Examples of nonrenewable energy sources include coal, oil, nuclear energy and, for the most part, natural gas.
What biofuel can be used as a renewable substitute for natural gas?
Renewable biofuels can be produced from a number of biomass sources including vegetable oils, greases, algae, surplus crops, woody biomass, and energy crops grown specifically for this purpose.
How much natural gas is left? How long will natural gas last?
In 2017, the world had an estimated 6,923 trillion cubic feet worth of natural gas left, which adds up to about 52 years of use.
That’s why we’ve got to make the switch to renewable energy sources as soon as possible. Inspire and our customers are passionate about creating a brighter, cleaner future for ourselves and future generations, so if you’d like to find out more about how you can subscribe to renewable energy sources in as little as 5 minutes, click here.
Why are cities banning natural gas?
An increasing number of cities across the US have decided to take a stand against natural gas.
Since June 2019, over ten cities have officially banned natural gas equipment in newly built apartment buildings. The first city to make the ban was Berkeley, California, then San Jose, Mountain View, Santa Rosa, and Brisbane. Six other cities have since passed laws to push for all-electric construction without directly banning fossil fuels.
It's not just about how long it will last…
When it comes to our use of energy sources, it is vital that we take into consideration the length of time they will last, but also the impact these nonrenewable sources have on the environment. Natural gas has been marketed to us as a sort of compromise between renewable and nonrenewable sources of energy, but this isn’t the case. Fracking and other dangerous extraction methods could lead to serious implications for our planet that simply aren’t worth the benefits of these outdated methods of fueling our world.
Thankfully, clean energy providers are now becoming the face of energy’s future. Choosing sustainable energy providers allows us to continue living our lives without compromise, while also knowing that we are opting for the least harmful choice.
Make a better choice
At Inspire, we are passionate about providing our customers with clean, sustainable energy. We’re proud to empower our customers in our collective effort to protect the environment while also providing clean wind energy. We purchase clean energy from wind, solar, and geothermal sources located around the United States and put it back onto the grid that you get your electricity from.
When you sign up, we're able to purchase even more of this clean energy on your behalf, which drives up the demand for these very same renewable sources — which is good for you and good for the planet.
If you’re interested in joining us in our fight for a cleaner, more sustainable future, click here. Signing up only takes a few minutes – what else could you do today to make as big of a positive impact on the world?