Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Natural Gas Supplies Overstated

The Energy Information Agency, the statistical arm of the U.S. Energy Department, stated that it has been overstating natural gas supplies and is preparing to make substantial revisions in the methodology it uses to calculate supplies of natural gas.

 EIA spokesman Gary Long stated that the revision in the methodology used to compile the 914 report, which reports monthly gas production data, will result in "significant downward revisions" in production numbers.

The common belief is that while oil may peak, that we have a nearly-infinite supply of gas and that "peak gas" is not even a remote possibility, thus the current emphasis on converting our auto and truck fleet to gas, which is also essential as a backup for solar and wind power without which these unreliable and intermittent forms of power generation simply won't work. Nolan Hart at Zomba writes:

 "We suddenly have over a one hundred year supply of natural gas at current consumption rates and that number has been growing by about one decade more each year since 2005. New discoveries such as the Eagle Ford shale in south Texas are adding trillions more cubic feet to the natural gas inventory. So, peak oil, yes. Peak natural gas, no way"

The italics are mine. We have one hundred years of natural gas at current consumption rates. Now, if we ramp up consumption just 2% a year, then how much do we have?  How about a 5% increase, which is very likely? We can roughly figure that a 5% yearly increase in consumption will mean we will use over 50% more per year in 10 years, which obviously means that a 100-year supply will shrink to 20 year supply in about that many years. Now, how much will our consumption increase if we switch to gas for electrical power generation, and if, in ten years, at least half our fleet of 200 million cars and trucks runs on gas?

Considering our heavy dependence on gas as a feedstock for heavy industry, electrical power generation, and most of all, for the chemical fertilizers for the factory farming so despised by the environmentalists, but whose productivity is the only thing standing between our population of 305 million people and major famines, is it provident and sensible to enable the population in the notion that all we have to do is convert our vehicles to gas power, and we'll be able to continue on as we have since WW2?

At this time, natural gas is being touted as the panacea for the energy crisis, and there is a powerful political impetus to increase our gas consumption drastically, especially for generating electricity and powering our fleet of vehicles. It seems easier and more economical to many policy makers to build gas-fired plants to replace polluting coal plants,  than nuclear, which are more expensive and employ relatively novel,difficult-to-understand technologies that a significant percentage of the population fear and misunderstand.

And anything is easier than telling our car-crazy population that the Automobile Age is as good as over, and that most of us are going to have to re-arrange our lives rather drastically.

Our lives depend on the ability of our leaders to clear a path through the hype generated by the advocates for various energy source. Most of all, they, and we, need to be able to envision a future in which all our fuel sources could be in decline, including uranium; and devise approaches designed to conserve these fuels and use them as efficiently as possible, while developing technologies that utilize more plentiful fuels whose cycle can be extended for centuries, such as thorium, one of the most plentiful elements on the planet.

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