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GCSE Geography | Case Study: Natural Gas in the Amazon (Resource Management - Energy 5)

Level:
GCSE
Board:
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas

Last updated 23 May 2024

Natural gas accounts for about a quarter of global energy supply (24.7%) - the third largest source after oil (31.2%) and coal (27.2%). Russia has the world's largest reserve of natural gas (24.3%), followed by Iran (17.3%) and Qatar (12.5%).

Natural gas is formed over millions of years from the decomposition of plants and animals on the seabed - hence the term fossil fuels. Over time this decayed matter is buried by layers of sediment, which get buried deeper over millions of years, and turned into hydrocarbons due to huge pressure (compression) and heat. Natural gas is colourless and odourless and is found trapped deep underground in shale rock, which can be extracted by drilling wells down into the layers of sand, silt and rock (see diagram below). The gas either comes to the surface by the force of pumped water or under its own pressure, and then is pumped to pipelines where it is transferred to a refinery to remove unwanted impurities, and then to ports to be shipped overseas.

Benefits and drawbacks of natural gas

Benefits

  • Natural gas is much ‘cleaner’ than other fossil fuels, as it emits fewer toxic chemicals like sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxide, and almost half the amount of CO₂, so therefore contributes less to air pollution and climate change
  • It is abundant with large supplies across the globe
  • Technology is making it easier to extract, and it is easy to transport through pipelines and overland and sea by tanker
  • There is also a lower risk of environmental accidents than with oil transportation

Drawbacks

  • Fracking is used to extract natural gas (see diagram below) - this is where high pressure liquid, made of water, sand and chemicals, is used to fracture the rock where the gas is stored, so it can be released. People in areas where fracking has been proposed are worried about the risk of earthquakes and contamination of underground water supplies
  • It is a very expensive process - fracking itself is expensive to do, but the infrastructure that supports natural gas extraction is very costly - particularly building and maintaining pipelines
  • Burning natural gas produces greenhouse gas emissions (CO₂ and CH₄), accelerating climate change

Camisea Project in the Amazon

The Camisea project extracts gas from the Amazonian region of Peru (pictured below) and transports it through the Andes Mountains to the coast, through a 340-mile-long pipeline. The project has cost around $4 billion - but this will be recouped over the 30-year lifetime of the project and has the potential to make Peru billions of dollars, if exported. It has boosted jobs and the local economy and has provided infrastructure improvements that benefit local people, as well as increasing the productivity of farmland.

However, the project was developed in a remote region of the Amazon Rainforest populated mainly by indigenous tribes - the project has had an impact on their food and water supplies, as well as making them vulnerable to diseases brought in by construction workers. Additionally, the environmental impacts have been significant - deforestation in order to make way for the pipelines and other infrastructure has caused widespread habitat loss. Building pipelines has also increased the risk of landslides and pollution of streams - which has an impact on fish stocks in the area.

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