Friday, October 30, 2009

Natural Gas Reserves

Though not technically about the security effects of climate change, natural gas is becoming a key part of the energy future for the United States.

Natural Gas is often thrown into the same fossil fuel paradigm as oil and coal. For example, President Obama's recent speech at MIT said: "figuring out how to use the fossil fuels that inevitably we are going to be using for several decades, things like coal and oil and natural gas; figuring out how we use those as cleanly and efficiently as possible". This implies that natural gas is at the same level as coal or oil. It is not.

Natural gas burns cleaner than coal: it produces only about half as much CO2 as coal to produce the same amount of power, and very little smog-forming emissions. New finds -- what Daniel Yergin calls the 'Shale Gas Revolution' -- mean that we can produce more of our energy for electricity and transportation here, cleaner than we ever have before.

These new finds are not simply marginal changes. They are revolutionary. In June, the Potential Gas Committee (PGC), a US non-profit estimated US gas resources at the highest level in the committee’s 44-year history, a 35% increase over the last estimate published in 2007. They said that that abundant, recoverable natural gas resources exist within our borders, both onshore and offshore, in all types of reservoirs.

However, this has not yet seemed into the political debate. The Natural Gas industry has nowhere near the political clout of the coal industry in Washington, because it is newer, more geographically diverse, and primarily smaller companies. They are trying to increase their power, before the Senate debate, so that the US doesn't get stuck by the cap and trade bill into a long-term commitment to 'clean coal' (whatever that is defined as).

We need to seize upon this windfall by switching our baseload electricity generation to natural gas. These plants can be used as the perfect back-up to expanded renewable power, because they are qucik, cheap, and easy to turn on and off (unlike coal-fired power). We need to transition our heavy transportation (trucks) from diesel to natural gas, while transitioning our light transportation (cars) to electricity (which will be generated from natural gas). A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation says that you could reduce US emissions by about 1 billion tons (15%) of carbon per year with these two switches, which would be likely to save money.

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