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Gas vs. oil: differences between natural gas and crude oil

Gas vs. oil: differences between natural gas and crude oil

May 31, 2023
Despite the increasing demand for renewable energy sources, oil, and natural gas will remain important for many years. Let’s see the differences.
Natural gas vs oil

Crude oil and natural gas are used in many industries, for example:

  • in transportation
  • in electricity generation
  • and production.

Despite the increasing demand for renewable energy sources, oil, and natural gas will remain important for many years.

Differences between natural gas and crude oil

The significance of natural gas and oil is undeniable. These resources are used as fuel for the vast majority of vehicles, including cars, trucks, airplanes, and ships. Additionally, they are utilized in power plants for electricity generation, heating buildings, and operating industrial processes.

Our modern lifestyle would be unimaginable without oil and natural gas. Although renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and hydroelectric power are becoming increasingly popular, they are unlikely to completely replace oil and gas shortly. This is because these renewable sources are currently unable to meet society's energy demand on their own.

Furthermore, transitioning to a complete reliance on renewable energy sources requires significant investments and time to develop the necessary infrastructure. Therefore, it is likely that oil and gas will continue to play a critical role in satisfying the world's energy needs in the foreseeable future, as long as they are available. As fossil fuels, they are not an infinite resource, and it takes millions of years for them to regenerate.

Crude oil and natural gas are both hydrocarbon resources derived from underground reservoirs, but they differ in several key aspects.


Crude oil is primarily composed of complex hydrocarbon compounds, including varying proportions of carbon and hydrogen atoms. It also contains smaller amounts of sulfur, nitrogen, and oxygen, along with trace elements. Natural gas, on the other hand, is mainly composed of methane (CH4), a simple hydrocarbon compound consisting of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms. It may also contain other hydrocarbons such as ethane, propane, and butane, as well as impurities like carbon dioxide and nitrogen.

Physical State

Crude oil is a liquid at standard atmospheric conditions, with varying viscosities ranging from light and thin to heavy and thick. Natural gas, on the other hand, is a gaseous state hydrocarbon and is lighter than air. It is often stored and transported in compressed or liquefied form for ease of handling and transportation.


Crude oil is widely used as a major energy source for transportation, industrial processes, and electricity generation. It serves as the raw material for various petroleum products, including gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and heating oil. Natural gas, on the other hand, is primarily used for heating and cooking in residential and commercial buildings. It is also extensively used in power generation, industrial processes, and as a feedstock for the production of fertilizers, chemicals, and plastics.

Environmental Impact

Both crude oil and natural gas are fossil fuels and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions when burned for energy. However, natural gas combustion generally produces lower carbon dioxide emissions compared to crude oil and coal. Natural gas is often considered a cleaner-burning fuel, primarily due to its higher hydrogen-to-carbon ratio, which results in lower carbon dioxide emissions per unit of energy generated.

Is oil and gas the same thing?

How did oil and natural gas form?

Crude oil and natural gas are both formed through natural geological processes that take place over millions of years. Both resources are derived from the remains of ancient plants and animals, which were buried under sediment over time, subjecting them to high pressure and temperature.

The formation of crude oil and natural gas requires specific geological conditions, such as the presence of sedimentary rocks and the absence of oxygen, which allow for the preservation and transformation of organic matter over millions of years. As a result, both crude oil and natural gas are finite resources that take a long time to form and cannot be replenished within a human lifespan.

Where does oil come from?

Crude oil is formed from the remains of microscopic marine organisms, such as algae and plankton, that existed in ancient oceans millions of years ago. When these organisms died, they sank to the bottom of the ocean and were buried beneath layers of sediment. Over time, under the influence of heat and pressure resulting from the weight of the sediment, the organic matter decomposed into crude oil.

Where does natural gas come from?

Natural gas is formed from the same organic matter as crude oil but undergoes a different transformation process. As the organic matter is buried deeper under the sediment, the heat and pressure increase, causing the organic matter to decompose into natural gas. Natural gas can also be formed from the decomposition of organic matter in ancient coal deposits and shale formations.

Natural gas and oil production and extraction

There are various methods for extracting natural gas and crude oil from the ground. The most common method is drilling, where a hole is drilled into the earth to reach the oil or gas reservoir.

In the case of crude oil production, additional techniques are often employed after drilling, such as hydraulic fracturing, to release the oil from the surrounding rock formations. This involves pumping high-pressure water, sand, and chemicals into the well to fracture the rock and release the oil.

The oil is then collected and transported to refineries, where it is processed into various products such as gasoline, diesel fuel, and lubricants.

For natural gas, after the well is drilled, extraction can be done through various methods, including hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. Hydraulic fracturing follows a similar process to what is used for crude oil, but instead of releasing oil, it releases natural gas from the surrounding rock formations. Once the gas is released, it can be collected and transported to processing plants through pipelines for further purification and distribution.

In addition to drilling, there are other methods for extracting crude oil and natural gas, such as offshore drilling, which involves drilling wells in large bodies of water, such as seas and oceans, and oil sands mining, where oil is extracted from sand and rock formations.

These methods, however, are generally more complex and expensive than conventional drilling and often raise environmental concerns.

Oil and natural gas fields in Europe

Europe has several significant oil and natural gas fields that contribute to its energy production. Here are some notable oil and gas fields in Europe:

  • North Sea Fields: The North Sea is a major oil and gas-producing region shared by several countries, including the United Kingdom, Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands. The fields in this region, such as the Brent, Forties, Ekofisk, and Statfjord fields, have been prolific in oil and gas production for decades.
  • Troll Field (Norway): Located in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea, the Troll Field is one of the largest natural gas fields in Europe. It also produces significant amounts of oil and has been a major contributor to Norway's energy production.
  • Johan Sverdrup Field (Norway): Another significant oil field in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea, the Johan Sverdrup field is one of the largest offshore oil fields in Europe. It started production in 2019 and is expected to have a substantial impact on Norway's oil production.
  • Groningen Field (Netherlands): The Groningen field, located in the Netherlands, has historically been one of Europe's largest natural gas fields. However, due to induced seismicity concerns, production from this field has been significantly reduced in recent years.
  • Caspian Sea Fields: The Caspian Sea region is also home to several oil and gas fields, including the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli (ACG) field in Azerbaijan, which is one of the largest offshore oil fields in the world. The Shah Deniz field in Azerbaijan is a significant natural gas field, supplying gas to Europe through the Southern Gas Corridor.
  • Barents Sea Fields: The Barents Sea, located in the Arctic region, has seen increased exploration and production activities in recent years. Fields such as Goliat and Johan Castberg contribute to Norway's oil production in this region.


Oil and natural gas are considered the most important resources of our time.

Although renewable energy sources are gaining increasing prominence, they are not yet capable of replacing fossil fuels for some time. This is mainly due to the superior infrastructure in place for fossil fuels, not to mention their ease of storage and transportation.

However, the future will undoubtedly belong to different energy sources, as non-renewable energy carriers will be depleted within 50-60 years.