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What is the Real Cost of Natural Gas?

Posted on 22 April 2013 by Jerry

The future effects of energy options, especially natural gas, depend entirely on our assumptions.  Simple computation of cost and break-even appear to show natural gas as a better choice than burning coal.  Improvements in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracking of underground shale releasing abundant natural gas make this plausible. However, a recent study published in the April 9, 2013 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) casts doubt on this conclusion.

The study looked at the cost effectiveness and ecological attractiveness of natural-gas electricity and natural gas powered vehicles.  The controversial conclusion reached by researchers from Princeton University, Duke University, the Rochester Institute of Technology, and the Environmental Defense Fund was that any computation hinged on the assumption used of leakage levels of methane from natural gas infrastructure.  They held that there was too much conflict in recent reports to decide one way or another.

Reports from research conducted in Colorado and Utah identified very high natural gas leakage rates ranging from 4% to 9%. This is considerably above and discredits the official rate of 2.4% used by the Environmental Protection Agency as it regulates the natural gas industry (see our January 31, 2013 post “Coal to Overtake Oil, Natural Gas is a Questionable Substitute”).  Both of these leakage rates make natural gas a worse energy alternative than coal.

In addition, there are studies that have been undertaken in Australia that support these statistics with methane release rates of up to 6.89 parts per million.  Isaac Santos at Southern Cross University is quoted as saying, “If it is leaking from the infrastructure that’s an easy fix.  If it is seeping from the soil that’s much harder to fix.”  This refers to the risk that hydraulic fracking so fragments the underlying sediments that gas seeps out of the soil in addition to at the wellhead.  Concern about this possibility is growing worldwide.

The world is experiencing the effects of a major natural gas disaster that has played out on a gas platform off the coast of Scotland.  The French company, Total SA, built the natural gas platform.  It has been spilling around 7 million cubic feet of natural gas everyday since its rupture in March of 2012.   Of course this spillage has not been widely reported as sensational since it is just the release of natural gas into the atmosphere and does not involve a visible oil spill with dead shore birds.  It is however, the global warming equivalent of putting another 300,000 cars on the road daily.  It also contributes to our worsening worldwide climate change.

Of course once again, the oil and gas industry is rushing forward to capitalize on our, industry created, present love affair with natural gas.  In fact, John Kerry our Secretary of State is quoted, while a Senator, as boasting, “We are the Saudi Arabia of natural gas.”  Our “ready, fire, aim” attitude, where there is no time for adequate study and there may be an industry/government agreement against it, may in fact be leading us to accelerate the negative impact of our existence on climate change.

Because issues about the value or harm of individual energy options are a very complex topic, it may require additional background.  I have included links below which describe the terms used with respect to natural gas and which answer a number of questions about the studies reported.

Use the following links to obtain more information:

http://www.pnas.org/content/109/17/6435.full?sid=9be41aa2-3b47-4450-8711-b2ba7641e01f

http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,2111562,00.html

http://e360.yale.edu/digest/methane_leak_data_highlights_concerns_about_natural_gas_drilling/3730/

http://iamaguardian.com/1093/coal-to-overtake-oil-natural-gas-is-a-questionable-substitute/

http://www.scu.edu.au/news/media.php?item_id=6041&action=show_item

http://newscientist.com/article/dn22521-methane-leaks-suggest-fracking-benefits-exaggerated.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/16/business/global/total-reveals-cause-of-north-sea-natural-gas-leak.html

http://www.edf.org/energy/faqs-pnas-paper-natural-gas

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/hydraulic_fracturing

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Doha Climate Conference: Success or Failure?

Posted on 29 December 2012 by Jerry

Conservative pundits from the Heritage Foundation declared the 2012 U.N. Climate Conference in Doha, Qatar a failure.  Supporters point to expanded commitments at a conference that was only expected to be a planning session for a “Big Deal” in 2015.  Was Doha a success or Failure?  You decide.

Detractors cited failure to hit Kyoto Protocol defined emissions objectives, lack of international support (U.S. refusing to ratify and exceptions for developing nations such as China and India) and an unworkable Kyoto structure that placed all emissions targets on a few dozen countries.  They called for the U.S. government to “more accurately determine the severity of climate change and verify U.N. claims.”  They continued saying the U.S. should work “through informal arrangements….undertaking appropriate steps toward a cost-effective reduction in warming.”

In an expansion of the definition of “beggar-thy-neighbor” which is an economics phrase describing how one country gains advantage at the expense of other countries, they said we should not try to mitigate global warming by “going it alone”.  Their suggestion was it was “Better to remove unnecessary regulations on fossil fuels and block any attempts to implement a carbon tax.”  In other words, we should act like global warming is not yet proven, slow our efforts to informal discussions with others and drill baby drill.

Advocates of climate change declared the meeting a success citing the following agreements accomplished at the Doha conference:

  • Attending countries altered the structure of future negotiations from two tracks (one each for developed and developing countries) to just one negotiating forum ostensibly limiting future exceptions for developing nations.
  • The EU and some other countries extended the Kyoto Protocol which was set to expire at the end of 2012, until 2020 and the EU, Australia, and Norway increased their carbon cutting targets. The Kyoto Protocol is the only existing treaty that requires emission cuts.
  • Developed nations gave recognition to poor countries for the “loss and damage” they face from the ravages of climate change.  This first ever concession opens the way for developed nations which have arguably caused climate change to possibly one day compensate poor countries for efforts they must take to repair the “loss and damage” incurred.
  • Attendees at the conference set out a schedule of necessary steps to be taken between now and 2015 as a work plan to prepare for negotiation of the “Big Deal” in Paris.

In the shadow of U.S. economic stresses, political gridlock, and inaction, the world owes a debt of gratitude to the EU, Australia, Norway and other nations for continuing the fight to control global warming.  We can only hope the US finally provides leadership in 2015 (the second Obama term) for the world’s efforts to limit rising temperatures.

On a related topic, scientists are afraid the world has passed the opportunity to limit the climate change temperature rise to only + 2°.  Accordingly the World Bank sponsored a report entitled “Turn Down the Heat” which was prepared by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and Climate Analytics. The report states the world is on a path to a + 4° temperature rise by the end of the century and predicts additional dire consequences.

Use the following links to obtain more information:

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/dec/26/schaefer-us-should-chill-out-on-climate-conference/?utm_source=rss_fee/d&utm_medium=rss  

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/dec/14/doha-climate-conference-success

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/dec/08/doha-climate-change-deal-nations 

http://search.worldbank.org/all?qterm=turn%20down%20the%20heat  Select first entry “Climate Change Report Warns of Dramatically Warmer World This Century” and read.

Scroll down farther and select 5th entry, “Turn Down the Heat Executive Summary English”, and read.

 

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