While American policy makers pass energy bills designed to pander to various lobbies and to allocate the largest subsidies to the "alternatives" to oil that are least likely to be suitable replacements and provide us with even basic amenities in the energy-short future, a number of geologists and energy analysts are eying the rapidly dropping rates of new gas discoveries, and the steeply falling drill rig count with growing alarm.
Natural gas is now considered to be the most likely substitute for oil, in spite of the fact that it, too, is a fossil fuel that is almost always found in proximity to oil, and is also subject to depletion. Gas prices are at deep lows and consumption has dropped in recent years, and policy makers and the public alike are pacified by the assurance that we have enough natural gas in North America to last 100 years at current rates of consumption.
Energy writer Kurt Cobb at Resource Insights, among a number of other prominent prognosticators, believes that natural gas supplies are headed "over the cliff", that the drop could be rapid and precipitous, and its onset could take place in less than three years. In a recent article at SCitizen, he outlines the convergence of circumstances now in place that could cause seemingly plentiful North American natural gas supplies to plummet precipitously in the near future. These include not only the unexpectedly rapid rate of depletion in recently drilled wells, but the shutting in of existing drills due to extremely low current gas prices.
As I've pointed out in previous posts, a 100-year supply will become a twenty-year supply very quickly were consumption to increase by just 5% a year. That's something we need to be very concerned about, because at this juncture, our leaders, driven by the fossil fuel lobby and in deep denial concerning our ability to continue business as usual as that has been done sine WW2, are hell-bent on converting our fleet of 200 million cars and trucks to natural gas. The conversion of our gigantic fleet of petro-burners to natural gas would cause consumption to ramp up very steeply over the next decade, and drive this extremely valuable fuel into steep depletion, with dire implications for our ability to meet other critical needs, such as for food and heat.
Not only is natural gas used to heat most of the homes in the U.S. and is the most efficient and economical way to do that so far, our population of 305 million (and growing) people are extremely dependent upon mechanized agriculture for food, and natural gas is absolutely essential for manufacturing the nitrogen based fertilizers that made the "green revolution" possible.. Obviously, rapidly declining gas production could mean widespread food shortages, or even famines, in this country that has never experienced such a thing, and would also make many other essentials, such as ample home heat, unaffordable for a sizable fraction of our population. That the result would be unbelievable suffering accompanied by a steep increase in disease and hunger and rapidly falling lifespans, ought to be obvious, but our leaders don't seem overly concerned with the implications for our non-rich population, which is about 95% of us.
Rapid depletion of existing wells could easily cause crippling shortages and steep increases in prices in the next few years even if we don't increase our consumption. Therefore, it would be sheer insanity to double the demand for this fuel by adding the load of our entire transportation system, if indeed we could even begin to convert our fleet of gasoline burners, or put into place the delivery system needed to make the fuel widely available.
The promotion of natural gas as the silver bullet that will save our energy-intensive way of life is just the next stage of denial. Our business and government leaders now recognize that peak oil is a fact, and we are understandably frantically casting about for a "solution" that will permit business as usual to continue, forgetting that all resources have a depletion curve. This is why our political leadership and business elite not only will not be of any help in dealing with the vicissitudes of life in a rapidly contracting economy and increasing scarcity of necessites, but will actually be major obstacles to successfully managing the massage shift in our economy and its physical underpinnings now underway.