Transportation of natural gas is also closely linked to its storage. Should the natural gas not be immediately required, it can be put into storage facilities until it is needed.
Natural gas was initially viewed as a by-product of oil extraction. Due to its value for energy production, however, extensive distribution pipeline networks have been constructed in major markets including the USA, Western Europe, Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union and Asia.
One network owner in each region
The EU aims to create a European gas market and favourable conditions for trade between countries. As with the electricity grid, there is free competition on the gas market between gas suppliers. For practical reasons, however, the actual network is owned by individual companies within each geographic region. This is a more cost-efficient alternative than requiring each company to build its own pipelines, and provides better conditions for maintenance and development. The network owner within a geographic region is responsible for ensuring that the gas reaches the end user and that the network is safe, reliable and efficient.
Natural gas is the dominant energy gas in Europe. The biogas market has great potential, although efforts are needed to better match biogas production with demand.
From gas deposit to consumer
The gas is transported from extraction site to distribution networks via transmission lines. These pipelines are up to one metre in diameter (and sometimes even larger) and are placed along the ocean floor or on land, in which case they are most often buried.
Transmission pipeline pressure typically ranges between 40 and 100 bar, and the pressure difference drives the gas from point A to point B. Finally, it is transported through a distribution network of smaller pipelines to control centres where pressure is lowered once again before being transported to consumers.
Pressure at this stage is approximately four bar, roughly the same amount of pressure as in an inflated bicycle tyre. If the gas is to be used by smaller consumers, such as private households, the gas pressure is further lowered.
If the gas deposit is too far away from the users, or if it is difficult to build a piping system for other reasons, natural gas can be converted to its liquid form, LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas), and transported by tanker. Tankers sail to harbours that are connected to transmission and distribution networks.