Monday, December 21, 2009

Natural Gas: It's Cleaner Than Coal, Cheaper Than Oil and We Have a 90-Year Domestic Supply

ASSOCIATED PRESS -- An unlikely source of energy has emerged to meet international demands that the United States do more to fight global warming: It’s cleaner than coal, cheaper than oil and a 90-year supply is under our feet.

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.


At 12/21/2009 5:28 PM, Anonymous Lyle said...

It is interesting that in 1976 when I went to work in the research lab of a major oil company, I was told there was lots of gas but not a lot of oil. So it is true. Now there is a nice synergy between gas and renewables. Gas plants can start and stop at short notice, are the cheapest to build, so they provide an ideal backup for Wind and Solar.
The issue is that gas prices vary wildly from $13 last year to $4 this year. This leads to wild swings in electric rates in my case a 25% swing in a year in the per kwh rate (In Texas). So I say start with the Pickens Plan, modify it to use gas as backup generation, and go with it.

At 12/21/2009 5:31 PM, Anonymous Benny The Man said...

This is a great post. I forget his name, but the guy who commercialized shale gas drilling deserves a Nobel Prize.
Cars can run on CNG.
90-year-supply? We just started drilling shale gas. There may yet be huge improvements in drilling techniques. We might have centuries of the stuff.
China and Europe have shale too.
This is one boom that could last for decades and decades.

At 12/21/2009 5:49 PM, Blogger Bloggin' Brewskie said...


It's great to see you're still "everywhere." The man you want to give credit to is George P. Mitchell, founder of Mitchell Energy & Development (now part of Devon Energy). Starting in the '80s, George pushed his stable of engineers and managers to find a way to crack shale gas. Most of the industry thought he was crazy, including his own employees; but when you get to rest in the last chapters of your life as a billionaire, who do you think gets the last laugh?

Sorry I haven't posted on my blog. I've been swamped.

At 12/21/2009 6:31 PM, Anonymous Benny The Man said...

Hey BB-

Nice to see your post. Your blog was my all-time favorite.

Best wishes in school

At 12/21/2009 6:44 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

"Yet politicians aren’t stumping for it."

Of course they aren't. They have no interest in energy, climate, or anything else except as it relates to helping them get re-elected and giving them more power. Promoting a fossil fuel is a non starter even if it makes good sense.

I never thought I would become this cynical, but there it is.

At 12/22/2009 12:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What "global warming fight"? Global warming is a symptom of liberal dementia.


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