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Natural Gas Vs. Propane: Which is Cheaper?

written by: ShawnTe•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 9/28/2010

The discussion over whether to use natural gas or propane has been ongoing. Even television shows such as "King of the Hill" bring up the debate from time to time. When it comes to consumers, the bottom line between choosing propane or natural gas boils down to cost.

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    What is Natural Gas and Propane?

    Natural gas is a fossil fuel found in different sources such as landfills and natural gas deposits like porous rocks. The main ingredient found in natural gas is methane, which is odorless; however butane, ethane and propane are also found in natural gas. A rotten egg smelling odorant is added to natural gas as a safety precaution so gas leaks can be detected. The United States Department of Energy lists propane as an alternative and advance fuel. Propane is a byproduct of natural gas and crude oil production. It is also odorless requiring an odorant known as ethyl mercaptan to be added to it to aid in leak detection.

    The way natural gas and propane are stored differs as well. Natural gas can be stored as liquid natural gas (LNG), compressed natural gas (CNG) or in its natural uncompressed form. Propane on the other is stored as a liquid. Both fuels sources are considered relatively safe for the environment and are considered nonrenewable sources of energy by the U.S. Department of Energy.

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    Cost Effectiveness (Which is Cheaper?)

    Both natural gas and propane prices fluctuate so there is no standard price for either of them. The price of propane is driven by the price of other crude oil-based fuels because it is in direct competition with them. A lot of factors can affect the price of natural gas such as inclement weather but the primary driver is demand. When demand is low prices fall, when demand is high prices raise.

    According to a Fuel Comparison Table on Stoves Only.com, natural gas is cheaper than propane. However, you can use conversion calculators from your local fuel or gas company to perform your own local price comparisons.

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    Environmental Impact

    Both natural gas and propane are clean burning fossil fuels. This means they leave behind very little toxic residual matter during and after fuel consumption. One special eco-friendly property of natural gas is that it is a greenhouse gas.

    Greenhouse gases help to heat the earth by absorbing infrared radiation (heat and trapping it in the atmosphere. According to the United States Energy Information Administration, naturally occurring greenhouse gases such as natural gas help the earth maintain a warm enough temperature to sustain life on it. Overall natural gas is an energy efficient fuel source that is environmentally friendly with monetary savings.

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    Resources

    LSA Colorado University.edu. (n.d.). Natural Gas. Retrieved December 22, 2009, from Natural Gas: http://lsa.colorado.edu/essence/texts/naturalgas.htm

    Propane 101. (2009). Propane Vs. Natural Gas. Retrieved December 22, 2009, from Promoting Propane Safety Through Better Understanding: http://www.propane101.com/propanevsnaturalgas.htm

    Stoves Only. (2009). What is BTU? Retrieved December 22, 2009, from Stoves Only: http://www.stoves-only.com/fuel-comparison-table

    U.S. Department of Energy. (2009, November 12). Alternative and Advanced Fuels: Propane. Retrieved December 22, 2009, from Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy: http://www.afdc.energy.gov/afdc/fuels/propane.html

    U.S. Department of Energy. (2009, August 17). Alternatve and Advanced Fuels: Natural Gas. Retrieved December 22, 2009, from Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy: http://www.afdc.energy.gov/afdc/fuels/natural_gas.html

    U.S. Energy Information Administration. (n.d.). Natural Gas Explained. Retrieved December 22, 2009, from U.S. Energy Information Administration: http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/energyexplained/index.cfm?page=natural_gas_factors_affecting_prices

    U.S. Energy Information Administration. (n.d.). Propane Explained. Retrieved December 22, 2009, from U.S. Energy Information Administration: http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/energyexplained/index.cfm?page=propane_factors_affecting_prices