In the span of less than five years, unconventional technologies for natural gas development have changed the outlook for US natural gas supply from scarcity to abundance, from high cost to moderate cost, from import dependence to self-sufficiency. By “unconventionals” I mean oil sands, extra-heavy oil extraction technologies, deepwater drilling technologies and shale using a combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
Natural Gas is fast becoming the hub of the US energy wheel. All other energy sources are starting to require it to develop their resource platforms. Power utilities are planning more investments into gas-fired power plants as they phase out some coal capacity, while also integrating new renewable capacity into the power generation fleet with NG as it’s backup. Transportation companies are adding compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquid natural gas (LNG) automobiles, vans, and trucks to their fleets, and considering the use of LNG in locomotives, barges, and ships. That is a large part of the industrial market segment that is moving off coal and oil to natural gas.
The renewable energy industry absolutely requires a backup energy source and the best solution for that is natural gas. Have you ever wonder why the big gas companies like BP, Chevron and Shell promote renewable energy? That’s because it opens new markets for their product – natural gas. Have you ever wondered why these same gas companies ‘never’ promote nuclear power? There is no market for them because nuclear is self sufficient without the need for natural gas and also a direct competitor for base load electricity generation and even transportation fuels with the likes of manufactured hydrogen and ammonia.
This one size fits all is a dangerous policy to even consider. Even China, which has over four quadrillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves exceeding even those in the United States, signed a $400 billion natural gas deal for Russia to provide China with 1.3 Tcf of natural gas per year for the next 30 years, expanding gas pipelines like crazy, expanding unconventional fossil fuels with fracking, developing a behemoth coal-to-gas project in Inner Mongolia, building the largest LNG infrastructure in the world, has an energy policy that also includes all the other energy sources in their mix. For example, they produce and use more coal and import more oil than any other country in the world, are the world’s largest producer of wind and solar power and are now poised to be the world leader in nuclear energy in all ways; in the number of reactors in the country, in exporting the technology to other countries, and in industrial cooperation with other world nuclear leaders.
And where is the US in all this energy production? Will NG turn out to be a one trick pony for the US? The answer to that has to be NO and this country needs to expand its policies to include cleaner fossil and expanded nuclear. The greenest way to generate power is with nuclear because (1) it emits no CO2; (2) its footprint on the land is miniscule compared to wind and solar; (3) it has the potential to displace fossil fuel ‘burning’ much more rapidly and at lower cost than renewable sources can; and (4) it can generate the prodigious (new word for me too) amounts of power that may be required to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and oceans. Japan once referred to the US as a sleeping giant just before WWII and the question now is; did this giant go back to sleep or did it just dosed off?