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LETTER: Crude oil, but no gas

The Hebron platform being towed out to sea in 2017. — Petroleum Research Newfoundland and Labrador
The Hebron platform being towed out to sea in 2017. — Petroleum Research Newfoundland and Labrador - Contributed

At the public hearings of the Commission of Inquiry Respecting the Muskrat Falls Project, the topic of natural gas from the Grand Banks came up often.

Is Canada’s East Coast offshore petroleum industry the only jurisdiction in the world where oil is produced but not natural gas?

When I lived in Edmonton, Winnipeg and then Mississauga, the houses I lived in these cities were heated by natural gas-fired, forced-air furnaces. The gas used was primarily methane.

Methane is the simplest member of the paraffin series of hydrocarbons. The chief source of methane is natural gas, which contains from 50 to 90 per cent methane, depending on the source.

I believe the term “natural gas” for heating or electricity production is a misnomer. It may be my concerns have no merit and the term is as innocent as partridge for ptarmigan, turr for murre, or rabbit for snowshoe hare.

Natural gas is a mixture consisting primarily of methane and ethane. Undesirable constituents to be removed in the process of “scrubbing” the gas for residential, commercial or industrial heating uses include carbon dioxide, water vapour, hydrogen sulfide and other sulfur compounds.

Desirable constituents (think bycatch you don’t have to throw back) recovered in processing may include propane, pentane, butane and natural gasolines.

Other desirable gases that frequently occur in natural gas wells include hydrogen, nitrogen and the noble gases helium and argon.

For example, thanks to high concentrations of helium in gas wells in Oklahoma and Texas, for decades the United States was able to monopolize the world’s supply of helium.

All the desirable constituents are valuable in their own right. Their production capture and sale allow the methane — also known as natural gas, that is, the fuel for residential, commercial and industrial heating — to be produced very cheaply.

What would representative samples of natural gas from Hibernia, Terra Nova, White Rose and Hebron show as their chemical compositions, percentage-wise, of the above elements and substances?

Tom Careen,
Placentia

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