Game changer 3: New natural gas supplies — great for low-cost climate action, bad for coal

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"Game changer 3: New natural gas supplies — great for low-cost climate action, bad for coal"

There appears to be a lot more natural gas than previously thought (Part 1) and therefore unconventional gas makes the 2020 Waxman-Markey target so damn easy and cheap to meet (Part 2).  Our guest blogger, Craig A. Severance, is a practicing CPA in natural gas country — Grand Junction, Colorado.  He discusses some of the latest research on new gas supplies and some recent analyses of what that gas might mean for coal use in a post first published on his blog.  Craig, is co-author of The Economics of Nuclear and Coal Power (Praeger 1976) a former Assistant to the Chairman and to Commerce Counsel, Iowa State Commerce Commission, did one of the most detailed cost analyses publically available on the current generation of nuclear power plants being considered in this country (see “Exclusive analysis: The staggering cost of new nuclear power“).

GRAND JUNCTION, CO –  You can see it in the faces of those gathered to hear the latest news on the natural gas industry:  Anxiety.  Anger.  Fear of losing everything they have. Frustration that there seems nothing anyone can do.

The rigs are down. Here in Western Colorado and nationwide, the drilling rigs that employed thousands in well paying jobs are down.  Where just a year ago this region was bustling with new drilling activity, rig counts are now down 74%.  Across the nation the story is the same:  74% down in W. Texas/NM; 68% down in Green River Basin (WY); 50% down in Arkoma Basin; 49% down in E. Texas/N. La.  The gas resources are still there, but new drilling activity is being curtailed.

Local Economy is Hurting. When the rigs go down, so goes the local economy of a gas-producing region.  In Western Colorado,  $3.2 – $3.5 Billion less investment by the natural gas industry is expected in 2009 versus 2008.  Housing prices are down and unemployment is rising. Retail sales have fallen drastically, stressing merchants and local governments.  The flow of dollars coming from elsewhere into the local economy has dropped off a cliff.  When natural gas — a domestic energy resource — goes down, it is not Saudi oil sheiks but American gas workers and the communities where they live that feel the impacts.

Natural Gas Was High Priced & Unreliable. Just a year ago, in June 2008, the average U.S. wellhead price for natural gas was $10.82 per thousand cubic feet, (about $10.50 per Million BTU, or MMBTU).  Electric utilities, concerned about the volatility of natural gas prices and worried about its reliability of supply, were beginning to explore high priced alternatives to natural gas, even considering reviving a nuclear power industry that had been dead for over 30 years.

Then, everything changed almost overnight.

39% Increase in Total U.S. Natural Gas Resources. High natural gas prices, together with relatively new “fracturing” technologies to free gas from shale deposits, prompted massive gas exploration efforts nationwide. These resulted in discoveries of major new natural gas resources, which became apparent before the end of 2008:

On Thursday, the nonprofit Potential Gas Committee industry group, assisted by the Colorado School of Mines, released the results of its 2008 assessment, indicating a total increase of U.S. natural gas resources of 39% since its last assessment, for 2006.  The report notes the new natural gas resource estimate is the “highest resource evaluation in the Committee’s 44-year history” — indicating the U.S.has far more resources of natural gas than previously considered.

“Furthermore, new and advanced exploration, well drilling and completion technologies are allowing us increasingly better access to domestic gas resources””especially ‘unconventional’ gas””which, not all that long ago, were considered impractical or uneconomical to pursue.”  noted Dr. John B. Curtis, Professor of Geology and Geological Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines and Director of the Potential Gas Agency there, which assists the Committee.

“Consequently, our present assessment demonstrates an exceptionally strong and optimistic gas supply picture for the nation.”, Curtis concluded.

Foreign Liquified Natural Gas Now Entering U.S. at Low Prices.
In an article titled “Who Knew? Looks Like We’re In for an LNG Glut”, the April 2009 issue of Electricity Journal noted  “In early 2000, the conventional wisdom was that U.S. domestic production capacity was on the decline, requiring massive imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from overseas.”

In response to this outlook, a number of major LNG terminals were constructed to import LNG from producing countries overseas, where natural gas is often an unused byproduct of oil production.  Those projects are now coming to fruition — at exactly the wrong time for the U.S. natural gas industry.

Electricity Journal noted ” there is now broad agreement that a U.S. LNG import surge is coming.”  The article noted three new U.S. terminals came online in 2008, after a record-setting LNG import total of 770 billion cubic feet in 2007.

Most distressing for the U.S. natural gas industry is that LNG imports are being sold at incredibly low prices. With a glut of LNG terminal and tanker capacity, foreign producers now have the LNG loaded and ready to sell, and often are merely trying to cover their marginal costs of operation.  The article noted “Setting aside the need to recover massive fixed investments, the LNG itself can be sold for as low as $3 per [MMBTU], including transportation costs”.

“Why would anybody sell LNG at such a low price?  Because, as Zach Allen, head of Pan EurAsian Enterprises, says, ‘Some cash is better than none’, especially for low-cost producers such as Qatar or for others where natural gas is a byproduct of extracting oil.”, the Electricity Journal article concluded.   

Natural Gas Prices Have Crashed. With a new abundance of resources both domestic and foreign now flooding the market, U.S. natural gas prices have crashed.

Price Not High Enough to Support Drilling.   While good in the short term for consumers, natural gas prices this low have now largely curtailed new drilling and exploration activities.  It is generally accepted that new drilling costs from $6.00 to $7.50 per MMBTU, so until prices can rise high enough to cover those costs, the rigs will stay down.

Little Hope On Horizon. Gas producers are looking at a very bleak outlook for 2009 and expect prices to remain depressed until increased demand for natural gas catches up with the very plentiful supplies now available.  “The worst is yet to come, ’09 activity is down 70-75%”, stated Carter Mathies of Arista Midstream Services LLC during his presentation at the Grand Junction, CO Chamber of Commerce last week.

Enter “An Inconvenient Truth” —  for COAL. Unexpected help to the natural gas industry may come soon, and just in time, through a “Cap and Trade” bill to limit emissions on carbon dioxide production from electric power plants.  This is a major piece of legislation that proposes to change the energy sources we use to generate power – and the outcomes would greatly favor natural gas.

Scientists worldwide have concluded that the raising of carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere is having severe impacts on our climate.  They say fossil fuel emissions must be controlled to prevent flooded coastal cities, dust bowls from Kansas to California, destruction of coral reefs and low-lying island nations, among other catastrophic effects. (See here for a good summary of the science.)

The major culprit, they say, is the burning of coal to produce electric power. Our nation’s top climate scientist, NASA’s Dr. James Hansen, argues “coal is the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on our planet”. (See Hansen’s full remarks here.)

Natural Gas is Winner When CO2 is Regulated. While natural gas is also a fossil fuel and produces carbon dioxide when it is burned — it has a major advantage over coal.  The best natural gas power plants produce less than half as much carbon dioxide per kWh of electricity as coal fired power plants.

Natural gas combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT’s) are very efficient because they use two cycles to recover heat (hence the name “combined cycle”).  These gas turbines are also far less costly to build than a new coal fired power plant.

Cap and Trade is Emissions Regulation, NOT a “Carbon Tax”. If the Waxman-Markey Climate and Energy legislation before Congress actually contained a carbon tax, such a sledgehammer method might adversely affect the natural gas industry.  Natural gas is a carbon based fuel.

However, no such taxes are imposed by the legislation.  (That’s why propaganda against the bill always uses “tax” — in quotation marks — since there really is no tax.)

Instead, the bill sets emissions limits on the amount of CO2 that can be released to the atmosphere.  This is very similar to other pollution limits that have existed for decades on power plants and factories.  The emissions limit is  the “Cap” part.  The “Trade” part lets a utility continue to emit if it pays someone else to reduce their emissions — this is so the cheapest methods can be used.

It is widely accepted that CO2 emissions limits will cause utilities to switch from burning coal, to instead burn more natural gas. One of the simplest ways a utility can reduce its CO2 emissions is to use less coal and instead use a natural gas plant that produces less than half as much CO2.

New Coal Plants Will Instead Be New Natural Gas Power Plants. If the Cap and Trade bill passes and carbon dioxide emissions are regulated, it is widely expected utilities will completely stop building any new coal-fired power plants, unless they have some device to “capture and sequester” the carbon dioxide produced by burning coal.  Carbon dioxide “capture and sequestration” for coal plants isn’t proven yet, and will be very costly even if it works, so at least for a few decades, no new coal plants are likely to be built.

If instead of a coal fired power plant, the utility builds a natural gas power plant, it will automatically reduce possible CO2 emissions by half.  Nuclear power plants won’t be built because they are too costly — especially when compared with a natural gas plant.

Existing Coal Plants Will Be Phased Out.  When continuing to operate a utility’s existing coal plants becomes too expensive because of CO2 emissions limits, the older coal plants will begin to be phased out.

An immediately available partial phase out of coal — and hence greater use of natural gas — will likely be seasonal “fuel switching” to utilize natural gas power plants more at times of the year when it is feasible to temporarily shut down some of the smaller coal plants.

As carbon dioxide emissions limits tighten in future decades, utilties will begin to permanently retire their coal fired power plants. In the June 2009 issue of Public Utilities Fortnightly, Steven Fine and Elliott Roseman note “As CO2 prices rise, existing coal plants become less attractive to operate.  Specifically, above about $30/ton for CO2, with natural gas prices of $7 to $8/MMBTU, coal’s competiveness in the dispatch order drops dramatically.”  Fine and Roseman project that if $80/ton-of-CO2 prices are in effect by 2030, “production from existing coal plants in 2030 would fall off the cliff by 85 percent”.   Their analysis is specifically tied to natural gas, as natural gas would provide much of the electricity generation no longer provided by burning coal.

[JR:  Note:  Actually, at $7 to $15/ton of CO2, coal should lose in the dispatch order in the Southeast and Atlantic regions as a May EIA analysis showed (see here).]

Wind and Solar Work Best With Natural Gas. Over the next few decades utilities and their customers will build hundreds of thousands of MegaWatts of renewable energy electricity such as wind farms, solar photovoltaic panels, and solar thermal power plants.

The Cap and Trade bill will strongly move utilties in the direction of using these “free power” sources, as they have zero carbon dioxide emissions.

While the “Zero CO2″  of renewables is better than the “Half the CO2″ of natural gas plants, this is not bad news for natural gas.

Natural gas power plants are load-following power plants, which can shut down when the solar or wind resources are available.  This is not true for nuclear or coal power plants, which are designed to run all the time.  Thus, an electric grid comprised more heavily of natural gas load-following power plants is capable of adding a higher proportion of electricity generated by the wind and the sun.

On the supply side, the ability of natural gas power plants to ramp up quickly to provide power when needed — e.g. when the wind is not blowing — make them an essential part of an electric grid that uses a high percentage of renewable energy.

Cap and Trade Can Help Natural Gas, and Vice Versa.  For all the reasons above, the natural gas industry will be a big winner if Congress passes the Waxman-Markey Cap and Trade legislation.

The Cap and Trade bill could be the unexpected friend the natural gas industry desperately needs to lift it out of its current painful slump.

Returning the favor, this domestic clean burning energy source can help America meet its climate and energy goals.

That sounds like a match made in heaven — or perhaps Grand Junction, Colorado?

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30 Responses to Game changer 3: New natural gas supplies — great for low-cost climate action, bad for coal

  1. Bullwinkle says:

    I’m fuzzy on the difference between LNG and propane. Could someone enlighten me? Will this affect propane prices too?

  2. Andy says:

    Send that map with the Shale Gas Plays to the fence-sitting Dems in Ohio.

  3. r l simpsen says:

    Natural gas is a combination of several gases and liquids. Propane, butane and gas liquids are all separated. Actually liquids can be refined into gasolene at the gas processing plants.

    Heavier gaseous hydrocarbons: ethane (C2H6), propane (C3H8), normal butane (n-C4H10), isobutane (i-C4H10), pentanes and even higher molecular weight hydrocarbons. When processed and purified into finished by-products, all of these are collectively referred to as NGL (Natural Gas Liquids).
    Acid gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and mercaptans such as methanethiol (CH3SH) and ethanethiol (C2H5SH).
    Other gases: nitrogen (N2) and helium (He).

    Nancy Pelosi recommends burning natural gas because she says it is not a fossil fuel.
    Most of the plains state lobby against coal electric plants is paid for by the natural gas lobbyists. Not the environmentalists.
    The writer of the article is from the western slope. Until a couple years ago, some rockies gas was almost free in the summer because pipelines sent it to the west coast and there were no pipelines sending it eastward. It is a Continental connection or called Rockies Express. I won’t bother to share all the names involved.

  4. Bullwinkle:

    LNG is Liquified Natural Gas, which is normally almost 100% methane (CH4). Historically, natural gas moved only in pipelines. In order to move it from the Middle East and other remote locations, the technology was developed to liquify NG it by chilling it to -259 degrees F. This converts it to a liquid, which greatly reduces its volume and thereby increases the practicality of moving it in refrigerated, pressurized tanker ships. At the destination, it is warmed to its gaseous state and mixed into pipelines with other natural gas.

    Propane is a 3-carbon hydrocarbon (C3H8) that is a byproduct of petroleum refining. Because of its higher boiling point, it can be kept in liquid form by keeping it under mild pressure. It’s also sometimes called LPG (Liquified Petroleum Gas), although LPG might also contain some butane and other C3 and C4 hydrocarbons that are not propane.

    If your gas comes to you in a pipeline, its natural gas. If you get it in big bottles or a tank by the side of your house its LPG. What you buy in canisters to fuel the BBQ grill, camp stove, or soldering torch is propane, LPG, or butane. Read the label.

    NG and LPG are not directly interchangeable in the short term for many uses, because they have different distribution systems, but neither are they totally unrelated economically, especially over the long term. A refinery, for example, might have a choice of switching back and forth between byproduct gas and purchased NG for its heaters.

  5. Bill Woods says:

    LNG is natural gas (methane) chilled to its boiling point (−260 °F).
    LPG is Liquefied Petroleum Gas, mostly propane and butane, compressed till it condenses.

    Because of the energy consumed in refrigerating and transporting it, LNG may not be much of an improvement over coal:

    According to a study by the Carnegie Mellon Institute, when you take into account the full life-cycle of carbon dioxide emissions of coal versus LNG, their total CO2 emissions are “comparable”. I quote that since I want to add context and say that according to their findings, LNG has 89% of the carbon dioxide of coal,
    http://itsgettinghotinhere.org/2009/06/07/natural-gas/

  6. Now the chess game of the coal industry will get even more interesting.

    Take Massey Coal – where Hansen and others were arrested – how will they react to this?

    Just last month the Supreme Court ruled on Caperton v. Massey –

    http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20090620/COLUMNIST/906201015/2127?Title=Keeping-the-judges-honest

    The ruling says that a giant coal company cannot buy off judges completely, even in West Virginia. And the Supreme Court itself narrowly got this out 5-4 vote ( So I guess they are just partially bought out)

    Gives us an idea of the complex ways Massey wields power. http://www.brennancenter.org/content/resource/caperton_v_massey/

    Their messages will contain more subterfuge, their moves more desperate and dangerous.

    Expect PR campaigns, heavy political lobbying, and more partial buy off of judges, and where is that promised debate with Hansen?

  7. Rick Covert says:

    Bullwinkle,

    LNG, or liquid natural gas and propane are both liquids when stored. Because natural gas or methane is a lighter gas, in fact its the lightest hydrocarbon comprised of one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms, it requires more pressure to compress it into a liquid than with propane which is a heavier hydrocarbon, 3 carbon atoms and eight hydrogen atoms, and has a higher boiling point than methane (-42.09º C for propane vs. -161.6º C for natural gas) so it is easier to store in a metal container than methane. Propane is also a bigger emitter of CO2 than natural gas.

  8. zanelewis says:

    Methane is a chemical compound with the molecular formula CH4. It is the simplest alkane, and the principal component of natural gas.

    Propane is a three-carbon alkane, normally a gas, but compressible to a transportable liquid. It is derived from other petroleum products during oil or natural gas processing.

  9. Jeff Huggins says:

    Natural Gas and CO2

    You know, I hope, and we know, I hope, that natural gas is a mixture of hydrocarbons. It too is FULL of carbon, and it generates boatloads of CO2. It might be modestly better than some other hydrocarbon mixtures or some even more concentrated forms of carbon (e.g., coal), but it’s NOT nearly the best solution relative to other available solutions. In fact, it’s not really a solution at all.

    And, the public is already confused, so let’s not (please) contribute to the confusion. Indeed, there is a frequently-run ExxonMobil ad on TV these days that brags about ExxonMobil taking naturally-occurring CO2 gas out of natural gas streams when they come out of the ground, without even telling people that natural gas itself creates boatloads of CO2 when it’s burned for energy. So, again, there is confusion and deception.

    We, or the media, can’t adopt a view that “Well, we know that ‘Y’ is a bit better than ‘Z’, so let’s just focus on that, with a smiley face”. That sort of thinking ultimately leads to confusion and incorrect choices, especially when options ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’, and ‘D’ are all way better than ‘Y’ and when ‘Y’ itself won’t solve the core problem.

    Instead, people need to learn, and understand, what natural gas IS, just as they need to learn and understand what gasoline IS, what diesel fuel IS, and what coal IS. I’m not saying that people need to become chemists. I’m simply saying that people should know that these things are all hydrocarbons, that they are chock-full of carbon, and that they ALL produce boatloads of CO2, by definition, when burned. Carbon is not an “impurity” in these things: Carbon is the main ingredient (from the standpoint of mass) in hydrocarbon mixtures. You can’t get the energy out of these mixtures without generating CO2, in very large quantities, with current technologies or with any likely future technology that isn’t much more trouble, and much more complex, and much more costly, than it’s worth. So, how about the sun, the wind, the waves, geothermal, and etc.?

    Thanks!

    Jeff

  10. I must add about coal PR initiatives: that Massey established the Green Miner award and hosted a banquet where ABC propagandist and coal industry bag-boy John Stossle spoke. Massey awarded the trophy to one of their subsidiaries.

    http://www.statejournal.com/story.cfm?func=viewstory&storyid=61227

    Their message was essentially “We are cleaning up our act… and only coal gives people the cheap electricity to be environmentalists”

  11. Rick Covert says:

    Richard,

    Did you read the banner at the top of the webpage in the link you posted that reads, “Debate Cancelled > > > A proposed debate between NASA Climate Scientist Dr. James Hansen and Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship that was to take place this evening and air on West Media Stations around the state has been canceled. West Virginia Media CEO Bray Cary said he hopes the debate can be rescheduled. “We’re disappointed Dr. Hansen did not accept our invitation to debate Mr. Blankenship. The only way to truly move forward on this issue is to put aside the theatrics and chest thumping and enter into a constructive and reasoned dialogue,” Cary said. “We hope Dr. Hansen will sit down with Mr. Blankenship sometime in the near future so both men can discuss their views on all forms of mining and what coal’s place should be in America’s energy portfolio.”

    Whats’ with that? Did Hansen smell a rat?

  12. Mark says:

    Jeff: If burning natural gas results in less CO2 than burning coal, which is does, then it should absolutely be part of the solution mix. Pending other factors (which are important) natural gas may or may not be a significant part of the mix, but it can reduce our CO2 emissions.

    But the other important factors must be considered. Obviously, there’s life cycle direct costs–converting coal plants, developing new wells etc etc…the corporate interests will take care of that and decide whether new gas is economically viable in the future (and assume it will be under Waxman-Markey or something similar).

    There are costs that must be considered. I live in Colorado and extraction of oil from shale is controversial because of the need for lots of water. I assume extraction of natural gas from shale also uses a lot of water but I don’t know that for sure. There ain’t much unappropriated water in Colorado and the little that is left is highly valued for ecological and recreational purposes. And some of these gas deposits are in sensitive areas to begin with.

    I’d never say it should be off the table, but these other impacts will need to be considered in a rational way if and when shale natural gas development takes off.

  13. ( repost of comment awaiting moderation)

    Now the chess game of the coal industry will get even more interesting.

    Take Massey Coal – where Hansen and others were arrested – how will they react to this?

    Just last month the Supreme Court ruled on Caperton v. Massey -

    http://www.heraldtribune.com/ article/ 20090620/ COLUMNIST/ 906201015/ 2127?Title=Keeping-the-judges-honest

    The ruling says that a giant coal company cannot buy off judges completely, even in West Virginia. And the Supreme Court itself narrowly got this out 5-4 vote ( So I guess they are just partially bought out)

    Gives us an idea of the complex ways Massey wields power. http://www.brennancenter.org/ content/ resource/ caperton_v_massey/

    Their messages will contain more subterfuge, their moves more desperate and dangerous.

    Expect PR campaigns, heavy political lobbying, and more partial buy off of judges, and where is that promised debate with Hansen?

    —–Just heard:
    “Debate Cancelled > > > A proposed debate between NASA Climate Scientist Dr. James Hansen and Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship that was to take place this evening and air on West Media Stations around the state has been canceled. West Virginia Media CEO Bray Cary said he hopes the debate can be rescheduled. “We’re disappointed Dr. Hansen did not accept our invitation to debate Mr. Blankenship. The only way to truly move forward on this issue is to put aside the theatrics and chest thumping and enter into a constructive and reasoned dialogue,” Cary said. “We hope Dr. Hansen will sit down with Mr. Blankenship sometime in the near future so both men can discuss their views on all forms of mining and what coal’s place should be in America’s energy portfolio.””

  14. TedN5 says:

    This is a very interesting article both from a general perspective and a personal one. I grew up in Grand Junction and was the president of a regional citizens-environmental organization during the Carter Administration and the beginning of the Reagan one. As the representative of that group during the attempt to subsidize an oil shale industry into existence, I testified before a number of Congressional groups about potential environmental and community impacts of the proposed massive industry. In one such appearance before representatives of the old Office of Technical Assessment I raised the issue of the industry’s potential impact upon global warming. The condescending response was that the science wasn’t strong enough to be used in making decisions of such importance. I conceded that while the science wasn’t robust at the time it, nevertheless, didn’t make sense to subsidize an industry with such devastating potential in the face of the evidence that then existed. Fortunately, the price of oil crashed and the Reagan Administration abandoned the subsidies to oil shale. Unfortunately, they also cut way back on the energy efficiency and renewable alternatives that the Carter Administration had promoted.

    The whole experience led to a life long interest in energy alternatives and their impact on global warming. I remember clearly a period when I and others looked to natural gas as a bridge fuel to non fossil energy solutions. I also remember our disappointment when it appeared that supplies of NG were not as plentiful as expected. It is gratifying to see this option back on the table. However, I will reserve judgment until I know the environmental consequences of fracturing the shale formations and extracting the NG.

  15. Jeff Huggins says:

    Hi Mark,

    I understand the relative improvement of gas over coal (although not quantitatively, in terms of the full life-cycle cost, as that’s not my expertise), and I don’t disagree with the essence of your point. What I’m trying to convey, instead, is that there are other solutions that are much, much better than any hydrocarbon solution. We spend so much time thinking about how to save a modest X% even as we ignore how to reduce emissions much more effectively and, at the same time, move ourselves away from resources that will run dry eventually anyhow.

    It takes society a long time to do anything. I don’t think we want to have to make a major change now, and then another one twenty years from now, and then another ten years after that. The more we convert to sun, wind, geothermal, and other non-hydrocarbon-based energy sources, soon, the better.

    And, there are uses for hydrocarbons in materials and other non-energy uses that don’t generate the emissions and that, in the longer-run, will have higher value to us anyhow. Why use hydrocarbons for energy, when we can get energy cleanly (from other sources) and can put the remaining hydrocarbons to better use in materials, or (in some cases) just leave them nicely where they are?

    That’s my point. If forced to make a choice between the two, I’d rather use gas than coal. But, we aren’t forced to make that choice, if we think and if we show some “will”. (I’m talking here on a “macro” level, of course, i.e., on the large scale: There will be exceptions in particular cases where the ONLY choices are between gas and coal.)

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  16. Mark says:

    I agree, from a pure CO2 perspective, wind and solar are better than gas. But it has to be considered as part of a potential mix, pending a full analysis of all the impacts of all of these resources. One thing that is nice about cap-and-trade (and, I’ll reiterate that I think the Waxman-Markey bill is generally a stinker, but I’ll take it for now) is you set a target and let other factors determine how the target is met. It may be different mixes in different regions.

    A lot of people have this gut reaction that fossil fuels are somehow inherently evil, which is silly. It doesn’t appear you arguing from that perspective. If gas can help use stabilize CO2 levels and if the other impacts are acceptable, it should be part of the mix. If it can’t do that, then it won’t be part of the mix.

  17. Mark, no, it is the emissions from fossil fuels that is evil. And it is not silly.

    We should guard against our own brand of denial. We really do not want to see how bad it is, not see how bad it can be, nor will we ruthlessly examine the optimal response.

    Until a technological breakthrough, burning fossil fuel should be permitted only for manufacturing and deploying clean energy systems.

    Anything else is silly.

  18. Hendo says:

    I must have been under a rock for a while, I just did not see natural gas coming as a saviour. But suddenly there it is (really?).

    I’m not comfortable that this news has just burst out – the gas reserves have been discovered over years of drilling – yet we are just offered it up as a game changer. Sorry, I smell a rat.

    Could it be a tactic drawn up years ago by those whose interests now seem somewhat threatened, or am I just becoming a grumpy old man with paranoia? Is this a move by the incumbent energy cadre to maintain the status quo albeit in different clothes?

    As pointed out above, gas is still heavy with carbon, see Bill Woods post (above). I understand also that gas has a lower calorific value than coal. That means to achieve a given amount energy release, more gas must be burnt. So even though gas might be 89% the carbon value of coal, in absolute terms we will still release the same, or more, CO2 into the atmosphere.

    If I am correct, (please correct me if I’m wrong) then there is not much of a game change going on. The incumbent energy lords remain in place, carbons emissions are unchanged or continue to grow, politicians can continue talking and making Mandrake-like gesticulations and the warnings not properly heeded.

    It sounds like not all the gas is in the ground.

  19. David Walters says:

    What I see here are a bunch of self-described Greens shilling for natural gas! Gas is only 30 to 50% less CO2 intensive than coal. Why would you WANT to burn it? Price stability…the graph provide is *so CUTE* as if the price will stay down for ever as the economy picks up and more of the many gas plants coming on line start using gas by the millions of cubic meters per hour!

    You see what you have done, don’t you? You are choosing gas, a fossil, particulate burning dangerous, randon-laden fuel over nuclear energy. You are providing EXACTLY the kind of ammo need by nuclear power advocates to advance nuclear in the U.S.

    Absolutely amazing!

    David

    [JR: Gas is 60% less CO2 per kwh than coal. You are very confused on almost every point you raise, including calling me a "self-described Green."]

  20. David B. Benson says:

    If there is plenty of natural gas, maybe it makes sense to require more CNG powered vehicles. Some cities already require taxis to be (usually) CNG powered in order to cut down on air pollution. Maybe more people will want to but CNG powered cars?

  21. John Hollenberg says:

    > What I see here are a bunch of self-described Greens shilling for natural gas! Gas is only 30 to 50% less CO2 intensive than coal.

    Natural gas is a good transition strategy to quickly lower CO2 emissions, is more cost effective than nuclear, doesn’t have nuclear waste to contend with, and can be implemented relatively quickly–we need to do something right away.

    Longer term, we can include nuclear if it is cost effective. From all the numbers I have seen, there are a lot of renewable energy solutions that are both cheaper and quicker to implement.

  22. darth says:

    Except that is is *way* more efficient to turn natural gas into electricity and then run the cars off of that than it is to directly burn the gas in the cars. This point has been explored here previously.

  23. darth says:

    Also for those worried about the gas, remember: gas = 1/2 the CO2 of coal. If you use it combined with wind / solar thermal it gets even better.

    For instance, with solar thermal you use gas at night so only 1/2 the time. Now the emissions are 1/4 of an equivalent coal plant and you have 24/7 baseload power. That is pretty good.

  24. Chris Winter says:

    David Walters wrote (in part): “You see what you have done, don’t you? You are choosing gas, a fossil, particulate burning dangerous, [radon]-laden fuel over nuclear energy. You are providing EXACTLY the kind of ammo need by nuclear power advocates to advance nuclear in the U.S.”

    You didn’t say so explicitly, so let me guess. You’re against both fossil and nuclear. Am I right?

    The problem, as President Obama might put it, is the fierce urgency of now. We have to start lowering CO2 emissions now. Replacing some coal with natural gas will do that — not right away, but sooner than large-scale deployment of renewables or nuclear power.

    We might have had nuclear that lives up to its promise, but we stopped research and development on that in 1994. We might have had efficient wind power, but that started off as a tax shelter and is only now recovering. We might have had a lot of things, but our system is geared to cut spending for the future to the maximum extent possible, with the result that we keep running into crises. Like right now.

  25. Dave Morris says:

    It is good news that there is lots of gas around – it’s a resource that is cheaper AND significantly less bad for the climate than our other fossil options. Gas undermines the economic grip oil and coal have on our nation.

    I have been traveling the west recently (by bicycle), and have seen wind projects going up at a stunning pace. We need a power source to firm wind (at least until there are enough widely distributed wind farms so they can firm each other). As noted in the post, the dispatch-ability of gas power is very valuable to utilities integrating wind and solar into their portfolios.

    However, gas is only less bad, and MUST be a transitional fuel – fortunately the relatively low infrastructure costs for gas power plants will make this transition easier. The combination of gas turbines and compressed air storage from solar and wind makes this an even better option. Cars should not be made to run on CNG – better to build them for

    I hate to see gas wells scattered over our beloved landscapes. I despise corporate opportunists making obscene profits from gas in western Colorado and coalbed methane in Wyoming. The Waxman-Markey caps must come down hard and fast to make this necessary evil brief.

  26. Bill Woods says:

    Chris Winter: You [David Walters} didn’t say so explicitly, so let me guess. You’re against both fossil and nuclear. Am I right?

    Wrongo! http://davidwalters.dailykos.com/

  27. Chris Winter says:

    OK, I stand corrected: David Walters does support nuclear power. I was misled by his rant about “dangerous, randon-laden (sic) fuel.”

    And thank you for the link; there’s a lot of good material there. (But I could wish Mr. Walters took a little more time proofreading it.)

  28. good power source guy.

  29. Problem is, hydro-fracking compromises our water supply. Destroys ecoystems. Eliminates property value. Until they develop a way to get the LNG that DOES NOT include pumping a fluid which includes 200+ highly toxic elements into the earth (benzene, arsenic, radioactive elements etc) it should be a moot point. And, since there’s SO MUCH LNG already available, there should be no rush to drill the Marcellus Shale.