Cheaper to produce and cleaner-burning than other fossil fuels, natural gas is seen by many as a "bridge fuel" that can help the world's nations transition from coal and oil to greener, cleaner, more renewable energy sources. This versatility, cleanliness, and availability make natural gas a vital fuel and valuable resource in many of the countries that produce, consume, and possess reserves of natural gas.
Natural gas is particularly popular in the United States, which is both the world's largest producer of natural gas and its leading consumer. Natural gas has a vast range of applications. It is used to generate 40% of the electricity created in the U.S., which is among the world's top power-generating nations, and also to fuel motor vehicles, heat homes and water, and cook food.
Top 10 Countries with the Highest Natural Gas Consumption (in billion cubic meters - 2020):
- United States — 832.0
- Russia — 411.1
- China — 330.6
- Iran — 233.1
- Canada — 112.6
- Saudi Arabia — 112.1
- Japan — 104.4
- Germany — 86.5
- Mexico — 86.3
- United Kingdom — 72.5
Environmental friendliness of natural gas
While no fossil fuel is entirely free of emissions, natural gas burns notably cleaner than its fellow fossil fuels. Composed largely of methane, natural gas releases mostly water and carbon dioxide (CO₂) during the combustion process—and while CO₂ is a notable greenhouse gas, natural gas releases only about half as much CO₂ when burned as do coal or oil.
The eco-friendliness of natural gas is of particular importance in the United States, which is one of the world's leading oil-producing nations—as well as the world's leading oil consumer and one of the countries that emit the most greenhouse gases—all titles many environmentalists hope to see the country discard with the move to more eco-friendly energy sources.