Friday, August 21, 2009
The Politics of Energy #15 - Natural gas is the 'alternative' we need now
By Thomas Kostigen, MarketWatch
SANTA MONICA, Calif. (MarketWatch) -- For all the talk of alternative energy, a traditional energy source may be the future power of America -- at least in the near term.
Natural gas reserves are up tremendously -- 39% higher than previous assessments -- new estimates show. New drilling procedures to extract natural gas from shale are the primary reason estimates have been revised so sharply upward.
But natural gas hasn't been tapped much lately either. The depressed economy has kept prices low and they've yet to rebound. Natural gas prices have tracked oil's general slide, sans the recent bounce. Low prices mean less exploration and drilling.
The Potential Gas Committee, an independent nonprofit organization, recently released a report that indicates the U.S. possesses a total resource base of 1,836 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, the highest resource evaluation in the group's 44-year history.
"Most of the increase from the previous assessment arose from re-evaluation of shale-gas plays in the Appalachian basin and in the mid-Continent, Gulf Coast and Rocky Mountain areas," the committee said.
Total reserves are enough to power the country for decades.
Coal currently produces half the power for electricity in the U.S. Coal plants produce large amounts of carbon emissions that are under fire for their association with climate change and global warming.
New legislation promises to crack down on carbon emissions from coal plants and to raise the price of carbon. Natural gas, which produces about half the carbon emissions of coal when burned to create energy, could step in as a replacement.
Don't think, however, that natural gas is squeaky clean. Carbon emissions are only reduced; they're not eliminated entirely via natural gas production. Shale extraction is not without its downside either. It takes energy to extract the energy source, and it's expensive.
Former Colo. Sen. Timothy Wirth, president of Ted Turner's United Nations Foundation and a pro-environment Democrat, spoke last month to the natural gas industry.
"The time has come for the natural gas industry to get organized, take the gloves off, and get thoroughly engaged in helping our country advance rapidly toward a low-carbon economy," he said. "You will help yourselves, leave a legacy for your grandchildren and play a major role in saving the world. But you have to ask for the order."
Wirth and other environmental advocates see natural gas as the next step in weaning the world off fossil fuel burning for power. They believe natural gas could be used in a mix with solar and wind power until technology allows the world to be fully reliant on clean and sustainable energy supplies.
Until we see the day when the sun powers our needs, a natural step in the right direction may be natural gas, imperfect as it may be.
Natural gas can be used to power homes, cars and industry, all without concern for the whether the sun is shining or wind is blowing to sustain resources. It's waiting on something equally as frustrating and unpredictable as the weather, however -- politics and business acceptance.
Posted by Richard Wottrich at 8:59 AM