Natural gas, like other fossil fuels, is formed from the remains of plants and animals that had millennia to decompose. This organic matter is compressed by layers of sand, silt, and rock. It is made up of various components, such as hydrocarbon liquids, carbon dioxide, and water vapor. But the most dominant component is methane.
Ten countries account for more than 60 percent of the total natural gas reserves in the world. As of 2018, the top producers on this list are the Russian Federation, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Qatar, the United States, and Canada. And more than half of the total global consumption of natural gas is by the United States, Russia, China, Iran, Japan, and Canada.
Rapid growth in the United States
From 2017 to 2018, the United States increased natural gas production by 11 percent — or 10 billion cubic feet per day. This is the second time the U.S. reported a record high in natural gas production and the largest increase in production the country had ever seen. The U.S. generally consumes what it produces, but in 2018 it became a prominent exporter. Last year was the first time that exports outweighed imports in 20 years. The Energy Information Administration, in its short-term outlook, predicts the increase in exports will continue to trend upward.
The above chart shows the slow growth in domestic natural gas production starting in 2005, with more rapid production rates in the 2010s. By 2017, gross withdrawals, or the total volume of natural gas, hit the highest-ever volume at 101.3 billion cubic feet per day. The total volume of natural gas waiting to be processed (marketed production) and the total volume of consumer-grade natural gas (dry production) also reached record highs in 2017.
Currently, the United States is the No. 1 producer of natural gas, but as highlighted in the above map, it is also the top consumer. This is heavily influenced by the advancements in the exploration of shale formations in the country. Measured by the millions of tons, the U.S. consumes the most natural gas by nearly double the second-place consumer. In 2017, the U.S. consumer 691 million tons followed by Russia, which consumed 387 million tons. The next highest consumption rate comes from China at fewer than 200 million tons of natural gas used in that year.
Resource Library. “Natural Gas.” National Geographic
Energy Information Administration. “Natural Gas”
International Energy Agency (2018). “Atlas of Energy”
Energy Information Administration (2019). “U.S. natural gas production hit a new record high in 2018”
U.S. Department of Energy (2014). “Fossil Energy Study Guide: Natural Gas”