Natural Gas: It's Cleaner Than Coal, Cheaper Than Oil and We Have a 90-Year Domestic Supply
It’s natural gas, the same fossil fuel that was in such short supply a decade ago that it was deemed unreliable. It’s now being uncovered at such a rapid pace that its price is near a seven-year low (see graph above, data here). Long used to heat half the nation’s homes, it’s becoming the fuel of choice when building new power plants. Someday, it may win wider acceptance as a replacement for gasoline in our cars and trucks.
It is estimated that the U.S. sits on 83 percent more recoverable natural gas than was thought in 1990.Thanks to the introduction of horizontal drilling technology that has unlocked stunning amounts of gas in what were before off-limits shale formations. Estimates of total gas reserves have jumped 58 percent from 2004 to 2008, giving the U.S. a 90-year supply at the current usage rate of about 23 trillion cubic feet of year.
Natural gas’ abundance and low price come as governments around the world debate how to curtail carbon dioxide and other pollution that contribute to global warming. The likely outcome is a tax on companies that spew excessive greenhouse gases. Utilities and other companies see natural gas as a way to lower emissions — and their costs. Yet politicians aren’t stumping for it.
In June, President Barack Obama lumped natural gas with oil and coal as energy sources the nation must move away from. He touts alternative sources — solar, wind and biofuels derived from corn and other plants. In Congress, the energy debate has focused on finding cleaner coal and saving thousands of mining jobs from West Virginia to Wyoming.
Utilities in the U.S. aren’t waiting for Washington to jump on the gas bandwagon. Looming climate legislation has altered the calculus that they use to determine the cheapest way to deliver power. Coal may still be cheaper, but natural gas emits half as much carbon when burned to generate the same amount electricity.