OG 101

What are natural gas liquids?

Natural gas liquids are an important part of the Canadian energy mix.

Raw natural gas at the wellhead is mostly made up of methane, but also contains heavier hydrocarbons: ethane, propane, butanes and pentanes plus. These are called natural gas liquids or NGLs.

NGLs are an important part of the Canadian energy mix. Significant quantities are collected during natural gas production, and these NGLs can be used for a variety of purposes, outlined in the table below. They are also a valuable export commodity for Canada. According to National Energy Board, Canada exported 9.7 million cubic metres of propane and butanes combined in 2017, with a total value of $2.4 billion.

Uses for Natural Gas Liquids

NGL Application End-use Product
Ethane Plastics production, petrochemical feedstock Plastic, anti-freeze, detergent
Propane Residential and commercial heating, cooking fuel, petrochemical feedstock Home heating, small stoves, barbeques
Butane Petrochemical feedstock, blending with propane or gasoline Synthetic rubber for tires, lighter fuel
Isobutane Refinery feedstock, petrochemical feedstock Alkylate for gasoline, aerosols, refrigerant
Pentane Natural gasoline, agent for polystyrene foam Gasoline, polystyrene, solvents
Pentanes Plus Blended with vehicle fuel, used for bitumen production in oil sands Gasoline, ethanol blends, oil sands processes

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)