History of Natural Gas

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dinasaurNatural gas formed over millions of years ago from decaying plant and animal matter. As plant and animals died, their remains mixed and layered with water, sand, and mud.  Over time, the mud and sand sediment built up and formed into rock, trapping the remains underground where the heat and pressure changed the matter within the rock into gas.

Natural Gas Industry Timeline

600 BC -  The ancient Chinese were the first to discover and use natural gas.
100 AD -  The first recorded use of natural gas in the home was in Persia (now Iran).

chineseIn the United States:

1620 - 1850: Progress in the 1600s 

  • 1missionary620 - French missionaries recorded that Native Americans in what is now New York state, ignited gases in the shallows of Lake Erie and in the streams flowing into the lake.  It's birthplace was Fredonia, NY.
  • 1803 - Gas lighting system patented in London, England by Frederick Winsor.
  • 1812 - First gas company founded in London, England.
  • 1815 - Metering for households, invented in 1815 by Samuel Clegg, and put into general use during the 1840's.
  • 1816 - First U.S. gas company (using manufactured gas) founded in Baltimore.
  • 1817 - The lighting of the first gas lamp on the corner of Market and Lemon streets in Baltimore, Maryland on February 7th marks the effective birth of the gas industry in the United States.
  • 1821 - First natural gas from the wellhead used in Fredonia, New York for house lighting.
  • 1826 - World's first gas cooker was devised in England by James Sharp, but it was not until 1851 that such equipment came into use in the United States.
  • 1840 - The first industrial use of natural gas in the U.S. is recorded near Centerville, Pennsylvania, when gas is used to evaporate brine to make salt.  
  • 1850 - Fifty or more U.S. cities were burning public utility gas.

1851 - 1899: Progress in the 1800s 

  • streetlight1859 - Edwin L. Drake dug the first well and hit oil and natural gas near Titusville, Pennsylvania.  An iron two-inch diameter gas pipeline was built, running 5-1/2 miles from the well to Titusville proving that natural gas could be brought safely from its underground source to be used for practical purposes.
  • 1863 - Standardized metering begins with the formation of the American Meter Co. under a 50 year New York charter.
  • 1870 - An attempt was made at Bloomfield to convey natural gas through a 20-mile main but this failed, chiefly because of excessive leakage from the pinewood pipes used.
  • 1870 - Pre-payment meters, patented in 1870 by T.S. Lacey, were introduced in Great Britain, and helped to spread the use of gas to the poorer sections of the community.
  • 1872 - The first long distance natural gas pipeline in the U.S. is completed in Pennsylvania.
  • 1880 - Thomas Edison writes in notebook, "Edison to effect exact imitation of all done by gas so as to replace lighting gas by electricity.
  • 1880 - Manufacturer's begin selling appliances, mostly stoves fueled with gas. 
  • 1883 - The first gas circulating or tank water heater appears in the U.S.
  • 1885 - Robert Bunsen invented the Bunsen burner.  Carl Auer von Welsbach in Germany developed a practical gas mantle, which patented in 1885.
  • 1891 - One of the first lengthy pipelines was constructed.  This pipeline was 120 miles long, and carried natural gas from wells in central Indiana to the city of Chicago.
  • 1899 - Internal combustion engine development allows the first compressors to be installed to move gas farther distances.

1900 - 1949:  Progress in the 1900s 

  • 1900 - Natural gas had been discovered in 17 states.  At this time, coal was the nation's major energy source, accounting for 60% of the United States' energy needs.  Wood provided 35%, and oil and natural gas together accounted for only 5%.  By 1910, wood almost completely disappeared as an energy source, and coal continued to dominate usage until after World War II. 
  • 1904 - Gas is used for the first time to power central heating and to provide a large-scale supply of hot water in London.  Also, experiments in house central heating, using gas as a fuel, are begun in St. Lois by Laclede Gas.
  • 1907 - The first gas well in Texas was brought in from the Petrolia field. Edwy Brown began pumping gas to nearby cities and by 1913 was serving Dallas, Fort Worth, and 21 other towns.  Brown formed the Lone Star Gas in 1909.
  • 1908 -  Standardized gas measurement begins in Wisconsin with the use of the British Thermal Unit (Btu).
  • 1910 - The City of Mesa's City Council approved a franchise for South Side Gas Company to manufacture and serve the town with gas.
  • 1911 - The anticorrosive properties of stainless steel are demonstrated for the first time by a German scientist, P. Monnartz.
  • 1914 -  Production of cast iron pipes is mechanized by S. de Lavaud's centrifugal casting process.
  • 1915 - Depleted reservoirs are used for the first time to store gas.
  • 1917 - The first commercial gas house-heating installation on a large scale is made in Baltimore in a development of 100 houses.
  • 1917 - The City of Mesa purchased both the gas and electric systems serving the town from A. J. Chandler.
  • 1918 - American Gas Association is founded to supplant 2 existing organizations:   American Gas Institute and National Commercial Gas Association.  By the end of the year, there are 2.5 million natural gas customers in the U.S.
  • 1920 - The first steel pipes with electrically welded seams go into production for use in the gas pipeline industry.
  • 1922 -  A more fundamental approach to the corrosion problem is taken with the inauguration of a program of basic research jointly undertaken by the U.S. Bureau of Standards and API.1922  A more fundamental approach to the corrosion problem is taken with the inauguration of a program of basic research jointly undertaken by the U.S. Bureau of Standards and API.
  • 1923 - The Regulo, the first commercial thermostat in domestic ovens, is fitted to the New World H16 Radiation Gas Cooker made Davis Gas Stove, giving the user total control over the cooking process.
  • 1924 - The Aga cooker, which provides cooking from solid fuel, is invented by a Swedish physicist, Gustav Galen.  Later models will be equipped with a built-in water tank, to provide domestic hot water, others will be designed to run on oil or gas.
  • 1925 - The first long-distance all-welded steel gas pipeline was laid by Magnolia Gas of Dallas.  The line, from northern Louisiana to Beaumont, Texas, was  217 miles in length and comprises 14-, 16- and 18-in. diameter pipe.
  • 1926 - Gas-fired refrigerators are added as a new domestic use for natural gas.
  • 1928 - Seamless tubing and electrically welded pipe used in the gas industry for the first time.
  • 1928 - Some 60 asphaltic compounds were on the market to reduce corrosion in buried pipe.  An advance was made with the introduction of the mill-wrapped pipe on Texaco's West Texas (oil) line.
  • 1930 - PVC a thermal setting plastic is invented by B.F. Goodrich.
  • 1931 -  The first 1000-mile, 24-in. diameter gas line was laid by Natural Gas Pipeline from Panhandle, Texas to Chicago.
  • 1932 - The first domestic gas water heater to work efficiently is the Progras instantaneous water heater.  Bernard Friedman introduced the heater into Britain, under the name Ascot.
  • 1933 - Imperfections in metal can now be detected by a device which produces high-frequency sound waves and beams them at metals.  Developed by O. Millhauser, the instrument will be widely used to detect hairline cracks in railway lines and to test welding of pipelines and boilers.
  • 1934 - The City of Mesa entered into an agreement with El Paso Natural Gas Company for supplying natural gas from their new line going to California.
  • 1937 - Gas-fired air conditioning units are introduced in the U.S.
  • 1938 - The Natural Gas Act of 1938 established federal authority over interstate pipelines, including the authority to set "just and reasonable" rates.  It is also established a process for companies seeking to build and operate Interstate pipelines.  Oversight of the new law is given to the Federal Power Commission, which was eventually succeeded by the Federal Energy Commission.
  • 1939 - Polyethylene (PE) a thermo plastic is made commercially by ICI in England.
  • 1940 - The first gas-powered turbine to generate electricity for public use is operated at a power station in Switzerland.
  • 1941 - Oil industry executives began to plan the building of two pipelines-one, 24 inches in diameter, called the Big Inch, to transport crude oil, and another, 20 inches in diameter, called the Little Big Inch, to transport refined products.  A ditch four feet deep, three feet wide and 1,254 miles long was to be dug from Longview across the Mississippi River to Southern Illinois and then east to Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, with twenty-inch lines from there to New York City and Philadelphia.  Crude oil was delivered to the end of first leg, Norris City, Illinois, on February 1943.
  • 1943 - Natural gas is liquefied for the first time in Cleveland, OH.  A fatal explosion in 1944 will delay its development and a means of transporting and storing the fuel.
  • 1943 - Approval was given for the Little Big Inch.  This line, beginning in the refinery complex between Houston and Port Arthur and ending in Linden, New Jersey, was completed in 1944.
  • 1947 - A new type of cast iron, which is twice as strong and three times as resistant to shock, is announced in Britain by Harold Hartley.
  • 1947 - The purchase of the Big Inch and the Little Big Inch by Texas Eastern Transmission was final in November, lines were converted to natural gas.

1950 - 1999  

  • 1950 - Domestic customers exceed 18 million; gas now in 46 states.
  • 1951 - For the first time in the Western world, natural gas is produced from coal, while it is still underground in the coal seam, at a colliery at Newman Spinney, England. Trans-Continental Gas Pipeline completed an 1840 mile long and 30-in diameter gas pipeline from the vast reserves on the Texas-Louisiana  Gulf Coast to the high demand areas around Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York.  It worked at a pressure of 800 psi maintained by 19 compressor stations.  It was of welded steel construction throughout.
  • 1954 - A special committee of the Thermoplastic Pipe Division of the Society of Plastic Pipe recommended the first three thermoplastic materials for natural gas distribution pipe.
  • 1956 - AGA reported, "For the first time, gas has become the nation's principal fuel for central heating of residences."  Gas provided central heating for 10.2 million dwelling units, surpassing oil at 10.1 million.
  • 1957 - Natural gas industry has 27 million customers, who are served via 155,000 miles of transmission line.
  • 1959 - LNG is produced for the first time on an industrial scale in LA.  It will be transported to Britain for the first by the vessel Methane Pioneer.
  • 1960 - The number of U.S. domestic natural gas customers exceeds 30 million.
  • 1962 - The first industrial robot is marketed by the U.S. company Unimation.  Once programmed, the robot can pick things up and move them continuously and reliably.
  • 1965 - For the 15th year in a row, a million or more new house heating customers were added to the ranks for natural gas.
  • 1965 - Cumulative miles of plastic gas distribution pipe in the U.S. reach over 9,000 miles.
  • 1966 - President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed "Gas Industry Week"  (June 13-19) to observe the 150th anniversary of the nation's first gas company in 1816; that company later became Baltimore Gas & Electric Company. 
  • 1966 - ASTM standards (D2513) were developed for plastic piping for three materials, PE, PVC and polybutylene.
  • 1966 - Natural gas is available in every one of the Lower-48 States.
  • 1968 - Unlike the transportation of gas, the production of gas is not a natural monopoly because thousands of firms compete for sales.  Subsequent efforts by the Federal Power Commission to set price caps on gas sales by producers resulted in a gradual reduction of exploration activities, and ultimately, gas shortages - not from inadequate gas resources, but because producers could not economically produce gas at the artificially low prices set by the FPC.  For the first time, the amount of natural gas consumed exceeded the amount added to reserves.  AGA sent a now-famous letter to the chairman of the FPC (the predecessor to today's Federal Energy Regulatory Commission), declaring that wellhead price controls would have to be lifted to prevent eventual shortages.  It was a rare case of the buyers of a commodity asking that its price be allowed to rise.
  • 1970 - Cumulative miles of plastic gas distribution pipe in the U.S. reach  over 45,000 miles.
  • 1970 - Corporation of Pipeline Rules DOT standards change - Rules came into effect.  Federal government establishes Pipeline Safety Rules for industry.
  • 1975 - The number of U.S. domestic natural gas customers exceeds 40 million.
  • 1975 - First  PE plastic gas pipes installed in Mesa.
  • 1976/77 - During the winter, wellhead price controls result in gas supply shortages.  The gas industry's well-earned reputation for reliability was threatened as interstate pipelines were unable to meet one-fourth of their firm demand.  Gas brought a much higher price in the unregulated intrastate marked than it did across state lines, so shortages in consuming states resulted.  Twenty-two states declare emergency situations.  In response, Congress considered (but did not pass) legislation that would eventually be approved 2 years later, as the Natural Gas Policy Act of 1978.
  • 1976 - The Gas Research Institute was formed to coordinate the gas industry's efforts to develop urgently needed supplemental supplies, to find means for conservation and to contribute to the more efficient use of gaseous energy.  
  • 1978 - In response to supply shortages, Congress enacts the Power plant and industrial Fuel Use Act (FUA).  The law prohibited use of natural gas in new industrial boilers and new electric power plants.  The goal is to preserve "scarce" supplies for residential customers.
  • 1980 - The City of Mesa purchased the Magma Gas System which serves rural areas East of Queen Creek, AZ as well as South towards Florence, Arizona.   Magma  customers is approximately 150.
  • 1985 - The present system within the City of Mesa serves an area in excess of 120 square miles.  The Magma natural gas service territory incorporates approximately 236 square miles.
  • 1985 - The Federal Energy Commission replaced the Federal Power Commission and issues Order 436, intended to provide for "open access" to interstate pipelines that offered transportation service for gas owned by others.
  • 1987 - President Reagan signed into law the repeal of the remaining FUA restrictions and incremental pricing, he believed that the country's natural gas resources should be free from regulatory burdens that are costly and counterproductive.
  • 1989 - The American Gas index Fund was introduced.
  • 1989 - The American Gas Cooling Center was founded.
  • 1990 - On April 3rd, trading on natural gas futures began at the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX).
  • 1990 - The Industrial Gas Technology Commercialization Center was founded. 
  • 1992 - FERC issued Order 636, requiring pipelines to "unbundle" their services and to offer and price these services separately.  This order changed FERC's earlier open access rule (Order 436) from a voluntary to a mandatory program.  Order 636 ended the pipelines' traditional middleman role as a buyer and a seller.  It converted them to transportation companies.  This enabled all natural gas producers to compete directly for buyer on an equal footing.
    1993 The Arizona Utility Group (AUG) was formed.  This is a statewide organization formed of gas distribution and transmission companies who operate within the state of Arizona. 
  • 1996 - The first residential "customer choice" pilot program, which allows customers to purchase gas from a supplier other than the local utility, begins operating in Rock Valley, Iowa.  
  • 1998 - Competition continues to evolve in the U.S. natural gas industry.  More than 80% of the natural gas consumed in the U.S. could be purchased from multiple suppliers, according to the American Gas Association report issued in August 2000.  By markets: 99% of natural gas consumed by electric utilities, and 96% of gas consumed by industrial facilities can be purchased from multiple suppliers.  69% of all natural gas used in commercial facilities is available for purchase under a "customer choice" option.  Almost half of U.S. households with natural gas service have or will soon have the opportunity to purchase gas from a supplier other than the local utility.  this choice is available to about 26 million of the nation's 54 million households with natural gas service, who reside in a total of 23 states and District of Columbia.

2000 to Present

  • 2001 - Department of Transportation establishes minimum requirements for operator qualification of individuals performing operations and maintenance tasks on a gas pipeline facility.
  • 2002 - Total City of Mesa customers is approximately 39,000.  Magma has over twenty master planned communities, which will be built in the Magma Gas Service area,  current customer in Magma is approximately 1200.  System expected to grow to over 80,000 residential homes.
  • 2002 - Approximately 22.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas was consumed in 2002, meeting about one-fourth of the United States' total energy needs.
  • 2003 - Natural gas is the nation's fastest-growing major energy source according to DOE's Annual Energy Outlook (January 2003).  By 2025, natural gas use will increase 54% (an average of 1.8% each year).  More than 64 million customers use natural gas.  59 million residential customers,  5.1 commercial customers, and 235,000 Industrial customers.
  • 2005 - The City of Mesa is awarded the Gas System Achievement Award by the American Public Gas Association (APGA).  This national award represents a significant commitment to the gas industry towards improving safety and integrity of the gas system.
  • 2005 - The City of Mesa's Magma service territory is experiencing phenomenal growth.  The system is expanding and 120 new services a week are being installed. 
  • 2006 - City of Mesa adds 50,000th active natural gas customer.
  • 2007 - City of Mesa Utilities celebrates 90 years of providing natural gas service.
  • 2008 - City of Mesa installs excess flow valves on single family residences.  Total of City of Mesa customers is approximately 52,000.

Sources Gas Technology Institute;  American Gas Association's 75th anniversary issue of American Gas Magazine (July 1993);  American Gas Association "Chronology of America Gas Cooking, Water heating and Central Hose Heating (February 1952); Gas Daily's "History of Natural Gas Timetable."; Culver Company; and City of Mesa.