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Climate Benefits of Natural Gas May Be Overstated

New emissions estimates by the Environmental Protection Agency cast doubt on the assumption that gas offers a quick and easy solution to climate change.

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Del

Feb. 9, 2011, 9:47 p.m.

One hydrofracking of a shale gas well requires up to 5 million gallons of water and a truck hold about 6,000 gallons so that amounts to about 500 truck trips one way -

Really?  500 multiplied by 6K comes to 3M, not 5M.  When someone posts such clearly flawed data as this, not only are their competencies suspect, so are their motives.

TFStacy

Feb. 7, 2011, 8:34 a.m.

Scott Gudrun and Author,

I agree entirely that jobs are the byproduct of business success - not an end in themselves. This is what I have been telling the “green jobs” marketers (lobbyists) and Congress for the past three years!  For if jobs were the goal, we could easily all go to work making pedal power, and print money to pay everyone handsomely for doing so.  The problem is, our economy would collapse.  Bastiat’s broken window fallacy is not to be tested at scale!

I wonder what it is that you would prefer, electricity only when the weather is right, or just a lot less humans to “ruin everything.”

It seems ProPublica and you both want to stop using natural gas and coal.  But neither of you appears to have done the financial math on these technologies compared to any feasible, scalable alternatives.

For instance, with wind energy at a 30% capacity factor and scalable, affordable, environmentally safe electricity storage nowhere to be found, the only way for wind to replace the performance of these carbon fuels is with a codependent stabilizing source of electricity offering 70% of the electricity in the partnership.  There aren’t enough corn fields, manure piles land fills algae ponds and forests to get this job done, not to mention they are all combustion carbon emitters.

Natural gas is the most abundant and least carbon emitting of the fuels for variable load (and variable supply) leveling, yet adding to the slope, amplitude and volume under the variable load curve by adding wind, forces natural gas (or any other) generators to run much less efficiently.

Doing the math on CC gas plants alone, running at optimal, steady output vs. wind+cycling CC gas+transmission, we arrive at an incremental cost per unit of carbon emissions from wind that is 4 to 12 times that of gas alone, and only has the potential to decrease the emissions from coal by about 15% more than gas alone.

The main thing to remember here is that 1MWH is not equal to 1MWH.  Delivery timing is a bigger part of the value proposition than quantity, when perishability is high and costs of preservation prohibitive.  That’s basically why we don’t “power millions of homes” with lightning (or wind).  Nice try, Ben Franklin.  It was worth exploring…

Given a very busy green ink printing press, I suppose anything is possible.  But costs at this scale translate to devastation of economies and millions of human lives.  Oh - I forgot.  Human lives are the least important consideration here.

So maybe nuclear power is the right thing, considering the priority list here.  While today’s fission reactors aren’t designed for efficient ramping, our naval fleet reactors are.

Jim Welke

Feb. 6, 2011, 12:49 p.m.

Natural gas is not a least cost solution to US energy needs.

Thanks for am informative article, but one of your points is not entirely accurate:

“Renewable sources like wind and solar are being developed rapidly, but the energy is expensive and won’t provide a commanding supply of electricity for decades. “

Distributed renewables for electricity generation, combined with aggressive efforts to improve efficiency, are cheaper and more reliable than centralized fossil fuel plants, and could reduce our demand growth for coal and gas to near zero.

more: http://completelybaked.blogspot.com/2009/02/renewables-intermittency-reliability.html

and more: http://completelybaked.blogspot.com/2011/01/modest-new-years-resolution-get-energy.html

Gudrun.Scott

Feb. 3, 2011, 3:40 p.m.

Energy companies are advertising that they create jobs.

I just finished reading the coffeetable book : “Plundering Appalachia” printed in 2009 and photos of blowing up 480 mountaintops—today that number is 500 mountaintops.

This is plundering not only the biodiversity, the forests, the water, the topsoil, the airquality and public health. All for the sake of some jobs?

Soon on earth it will make more sense to eat locally and grow locally and Appalachia would be much better off if they had some land to do something with rather than have a mudslide killing people because of climate instability is upon us.

See this weeks news about the cyclone in Australia - biggest ever and the hundreds of people who died in Brazil recently from mudslides due to massive rain and cutting down the forests—for mahogany. someplace!

Actually I have heard that more enlightened rich people do not want a mahogany lined apartment or office as we understand they come from a limited and beautiful rain forest getting hacked down.

As for birthcontrol, sure you have to make it attractive to have a smaller family—it could start by having a portable local family planning clinic come around to people who don’t have a car or transport to a county clinic somewhere.  Family planning has to be user friendly world wide which is not the case right now thanks to fundamentalism both here and abroad and has little to do with poor people actually clamoring for huge families.

To get back to the beginning- job creation without explanation what these jobs are destroying is not real economics any more than going around and saying that natural gas is more climate friendly than coal. 
Thanks pro publica for doing the math when it comes to the economics of natural gas.

Somebody else needs to do the economics of creating jobs that destroy more than they create.

David Phillips

Feb. 2, 2011, 6:04 p.m.

Jan,

I have known we were at an impasse for some time.  But it is valuable to me at least to know the source of your beliefs.  Now I know that it was Ecology courses that started you in your direction. 

The discussion has been interesting to me.  I have a master’s degree but not in ecology.  However, I have worked and lived in 2nd and 3rd world situations.  “Energy drives population.”  Only up to a point.  Adam Smith writing in 1776 noted that poverty drove population.  He documents that the birth rates for poor people are consistently higher than for those of wealthy people across many cultures and nations and over long periods of history. 

This finding is confirmed if you trace - as Robert Hargraves has (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgKfS74hVvQ)  - the per capita birth rates and the level of wealth and energy use.  As wealth rises above 7500 dollars a year and energy use rises above 2000 KWH / year / per capita the population levels and the overall standard of living becomes much more conducive to human prosperity. 

On the other hand, some of the poorest countries with some of the smallest energy use per capita have some of the worlds fastest population growth rates. 

I think your ecology class was not entirely accurate.  The date does not support your conclusion. 

Thanks for a patient conversation.

Jan Steinman

Feb. 2, 2011, 4:40 p.m.

“f we have enough energy for them, as I am proposing, they will also be able to eat.  This is the crux of the argument.”

If we have energy, population will grow. If energy declines, population will, also.

You have it exactly backwards. Energy drives population, not the other way around. I’m not making this up; it is a basic principle of college-level ecology. Plot human energy availability and population, and they track almost perfectly. THIS is the crux of the argument!

We are at impasse, and I am bored. I should have taken my own advice when I summed up the “status quo” versus the steady-state camps, below.

I cannot live in your world, and you, it seems, cannot live in mine.

David Phillips

Feb. 2, 2011, 3:37 p.m.

If we have enough energy for them, as I am proposing, they will also be able to eat.  This is the crux of the argument.  Do we need to restrain energy use to allow future generations to live somewhere near the same level of health and education we currently enjoy?  Or can we continue at somewhat the same level?  I want to leave future generations with tools that will enable them - not plan to restrict them in advance. 

If we continue using fossil fuels for sure sometime in the next 100 to 450 years we will run out and the generations that follow are going to die more quickly in deeper poverty.  However, if we can utilize the energy potential in Uranium, Thorium and Plutonium, we can extend enough wealth today to slow the population growth.  I agree population growth needs to be slowed I disagree about the means (that is to say wealth decreases birth rates from the historical records I have seen). 

So, in my understanding by using a basically emission free source of power that has very long term potential we can achieve that goal. 

The other option is tyranny.  That is I force people today to conform to some pattern of living that I have decided for them.  Personally I would rather leave the future generations the gift of a technology that enables them rather than hope for the political force necessary to put the genie of a modern civilization back in the bottle. 

The reason why I don’t think that Solar and Wind can help us get there is that these variable sources cannot sustain modern civilization.  We can only have this discussion because the services we are using all have reliable energy sources.

Jan Steinman

Feb. 2, 2011, 2:56 p.m.

“So, with your no growth idea, are you able to look these folks in the eye and tell them they can’t eat?  I can’t.”

So, with your notion that population growth and subsequent energy use growth are inevitable, can you look future generations in the eye and tell them, “Sorry we didn’t restrain ourselves, and now you can’t eat?”

I can’t.

David Phillips

Feb. 2, 2011, 12:55 p.m.

@ Jan,

Worshiping at the church of growth?  Do you have every conversation pegged and every person labeled?  I am merely pointing out the fact that population (world wide) is growing and that personal conservation - even if highly effective - will not reduce the overall demand for resources.

If you don’t “worship at the church of growth”  what church do you worship at? 

For me worship includes loving my neighbor as myself and doing for others what I would want them to do for me.  It also commands me that the strong ought to bear with and help the weak. 

Finally, I am currently unemployed and living in an apartment - that is all electric.  I do not work for any nuclear power industry and have arrived at my conclusions after wide ranging study to help those around me.  I have lived in places where solar, winds and waves were all that were available to some of my neighbors (with the occasional few gallons of diesel for fishing).  The grinding poverty is heart breaking, the lack of education mind numbing.  Much of this was due to poor government but some of it was also due to expensive energy.  How do you feed your family when the fuel to move your fishing boat costs more per day than you earn in a week? 

So, with your no growth idea, are you able to look these folks in the eye and tell them they can’t eat?  I can’t.

Rod Adams

Feb. 1, 2011, 7:39 p.m.

@Jan Steinman

You may reject growth, but I totally reject the crackpot theories of Thomas Malthus, a man who died in 1834, and has has been proven wrong in all of his predictions of resource shortages.

There is so much more we could be doing with the resources that we were given on this earth. There is no reason why 4-5 billion people have to be living in dire poverty. Based on the population and fertility patterns that you can find through simple research, one would have to conclude that the very best way to limit human population growth would be to improve access to energy and prosperity.

You sound like you enjoy being self sufficient. I congratulate you. What is your prescription for all of the people who do not have your options, your health and your resources? How do you expect them to choose to live if they do not have any land on which to grow food or to erect solar panels? Do you think that people who are born in barrios, slums and apartments have no right to live?

Feel free to keep your elitist views; I will keep working to make clean energy into the cheap kind of energy that everyone should be able to use freely to improve their standards of living.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights

Jan Steinman

Feb. 1, 2011, 2:31 p.m.

David Phillips wrote: “Even if we some how manage to “conserve” a great deal - say 30%, we will only affect the growth of demand in our country by a small amount as our population grows.”

Ah, you’ve identified yourself as one who worships at the “Church of Growth.” But don’t feel bad—you’ve got nearly 6.8 billion fellow worshippers! This is the One True Religion that none dare defy, lest they be branded as heretics.

This is the crux of our disagreement: I totally refute “growth” as a sustainable way of life.

We don’t need nuclear power. We need a steady-state way of life that is within our solar energy budget. But to do that, we have to stop worshipping at the Church of Growth.

David Phillips

Feb. 1, 2011, 2:20 p.m.

@ Gudrun,

Well, I may not have much more time to devote to this.  But loosing sleep to do so helps.  :) 

You said,

“Precicely, we need to convince other less developed civilizations that “less is more” and that consumerism is the death of all of us especially if the third world joins us in the consumer frenzy which by the way does not lead to happiness.”

I totally agree that a consumer frenzy does not lead to happiness.  On the other hand the world is moving urban and the opportunity to work sure helps you to feed your family.  Reliable energy that is inexpensive helps with that. 

“Have you seen the photo that if the entire world would consume like the USA, we would need 5 earths to support this consumtion of resources of all levels.”

I have not seen the photo but I understand the concept.  The point we are making is that most of the world is living far below our level and they are planning to met us at least 1/2 way.  This will force increased energy production and the best technology for that will be nuclear power.

“Riding around on a bicycle is much better for your body and health than driving in a car!  Have you noticed how obese the US population is becoming—- including Jay Lenno—when you see movies of our own population from the 1960’s—they are much slimmer and more attractive—- already an example of “less is more”.”

I love to ride a bicycle and that is my first choice in transportation.  But shifting to bikes will not solve our energy problems.  The percentage of energy used on a personal level is only about 1/3 of the total energy needed in the USA.  Even if we some how manage to “conserve” a great deal - say 30%, we will only affect the growth of demand in our country by a small amount as our population grows.  Most energy is used in industry.  Industry has a huge financial incentive for reducing energy use already and work hard to do so, but you still need vast amounts of energy to keep people working.

It is a bit harsh but the choices are to produce more energy in the safest cleanest way possible - nuclear power - or to let people live in pain and poverty.

Jan Steinman

Feb. 1, 2011, 1:39 p.m.

Well, I can see I’m out-gunned—if not “out-thought”—on this thread. I don’t have the time that Rod Adams and David Phillips seem to have to devote to this thread. I have food to grow, animals to tend to, and biodiesel (from waste restaurant oil) to brew—I can’t sit in front of a keyboard all day.

We are at an impasse, and I respectfully decline a point-by-point rebuttal of their arguments, although I have the information to do so. It just isn’t worth arguing with brick walls!

But most of all, we have a basic philosophical difference that I fear cannot be breached.

On the one side is basically a “status quo” argument that civilization can pretty much go on as it has been for “tens of thousands of years,” if we only choose the proper energy source.

On the other side is the notion that nothing in the known universe grows forever. Everything eventually collapses under its own weight, outstripping the energy and connectivity required of its increasing complexity, until it self-destructs. This “panarchy” theory applies equally to individual living creatures, populations, and civilizations, just as it applies to stars, galaxies, and perhaps the entire Universe.

The Adams-Phillips school (for lack of a better term) seems to think we should put our effort into perpetuating and growing the way things are. The Panarchy theorists think we are headed for a crash, and must put our efforts into managing as smooth a decent as we can.

I’m working on the latter plan, and could use some help. More at http://www.EcoReality.org .

Gudrun Scott

Feb. 1, 2011, 12:39 p.m.

Rod Adams says that “average people don’t have any interest in reducing their lifestyles”—- I believe he also was the one who earlier said “I prefer to use the model once famously proposed by Jay Leno in his Doritos commercials.“Use all you want. We’ll make more.””

This comment made me think:  Jay Lenno was of course making an ironic joke here—and was not seriously suggesting it as a solution!

Precicely, we need to convince other less developed civilizations that “less is more” and that consumerism is the death of all of us especially if the third world joins us in the consumer frenzy which by the way does not lead to happiness.

Have you seen the photo that if the entire world would consume like the USA, we would need 5 earths to support this consumtion of resources of all levels.

Riding around on a bicycle is much better for your body and health than driving in a car!  Have you noticed how obese the US population is becoming—- including Jay Lenno—when you see movies of our own population from the 1960’s—they are much slimmer and more attractive—- already an example of “less is more”.

Read this article here about how the Chinese are wrecking their environment with rare earth mining and you can see—technology is overrated and there is a confidence in technology that is not warranted.
  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-1350811/In-China-true-cost-Britains-clean-green-wind-power-experiment-Pollution-disastrous-scale.html

I am grateful for my scientific literacy and I do believe science can eventually solve our problems but not due to consumerism or greedy technosolutions.

Look up the word consume in the dictionary—to destroy is a synonym.

Rod Adams

Feb. 1, 2011, 6:21 a.m.

@Jan Steinman - I am not sure why, but one of my responses to you did not make it through the moderator.

The most important part of the comment was to tell you that there is a very good reason why MIT and the Wall Street Journal are not huge nuclear energy fans and often publish articles that question its value.

Both of those institutions are highly respected members of the establishment. They have both benefited by the massive wealth that has been released by using vast quantities of fossil fuel and both continue to benefit handsomely from advertisements, donations and research dollars that flow because most people have been taught to be afraid of nuclear energy.

Average people do not have any interest in reducing their lifestyles or learning to live with less. As individuals, most of us want a more prosperous and comfortable way of life, though some of us will point to our neighbors and scoff at their seeming excessive use of energy.

The reason that the establishment does not like nuclear energy very much is that it offers a disruptive technology that could quickly increase the market supply of energy to well above the market demand. As many historical events can show, that situation results in rapid drops in the price of fuel, and can lead to hardship or even bankruptcies for those companies that have bet on increasing prices.

If you read through some energy trade publications from the 1980s, you will find that many commentators were worried about the “oversupply” that was coming into the market from the completion of new nuclear power plants. From about 1986 through 2000, as those power plants continued to increase the amount of energy they were producing every year, the price of fossil fuel dropped and stayed very low. Oil dipped down to $10 per barrel and natural gas was selling for $1.80 per million BTU.

The establishment likes stability, nuclear energy is destabilizing to their established positions of wealth and power.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights

David Phillips

Jan. 31, 2011, 11:43 p.m.

@ Jan Steinman,

Your reply has a large number of problems that I would like to respectfully address.

It is fairly obvious that uranium mining and prospecting over the past few years has been suppressed by Russia’s weapon grade uranium.  However, the price of uranium can rise to over 300 / kg and still not greatly affect the cost of electricity produced.  Japan estimates it will be able to recover uranium from sea water for 300 / kg.  There are several billion tons of dissolved Uranium in sea water that can be accessed at a marketable price.  Over the years those who have bet on the scarcity of commodities have always been proved wrong – even if from MIT or the Wall Street Journal.   

It has been known since the first testing of a reactor in Chicago that there are two types (isotopes) of Uranium, one is able to be split with the addition of a neutron - U235 - and the other U238 can capture neutrons and become a fuel itself, i.e. Plutonium 239 and 240 mixed together.  This is called breeding and the technical issues around breeding are fairly straight forward, we just need to do the engineering. The other material you mention - thorium 232 - which converts to U 233 has even more potential since in a Molten Salt configuration it was demonstrated to be able to operate safely, with online refueling and it can burn very close to 100% of the U233 produced. These are not “hoped for” potentials - like taking 1/10 of an inch of rain from a roof, but are real potentials based on the best physics we have produced over the past 100 years.  E=MC2

We are no more confusing the “real” with the “ideal” that you are in projecting a 100 year supply of natural gas – if you are allowed to continue a very difficult technical operation (fraking) that the oil and natural gas companies are spending billions of dollars developing.  Perhaps Natural Gas would be considered a bit more “ideal” if it was held even to the same radiation standards as nuclear power is, much less the same plant safety standards such as protection against terrorist attack. 

While there are no “shovel ready” Thorium designs ready – does that mean that we should continue to place huge regulatory barriers in the way of preparing those designs?  There are good engineers and companies working on current designs now.  Please look up energyfromthorium. 

I am sorry to hear of your friend’s father dying from leukemia.  This is a rarity with those working in Nuclear Power plants and since 1966 the plants have gotten much safer.  I heard stories about those days when people would handle plutonium with just a pair of gloves and end up getting hurt when they were playing with it and put it in a critical distance while holding it.  Those days are as long gone as driving on bench seats in a car without seat-belts. Fewer people have been killed in the 60 year history of nuclear power than were killed by methane last year.  (Counting the mine explosions from methane, the power plant destroyed on the east coast, the homes destroyed on the west coast and the BP disaster).  Please don’t exaggerate the danger of radiation coming from Nuclear power production. 

Disposal is only a problem due to political – not technical reasons.  The Waste Isolation Pilot Project WIPP is able to take all our waste today, even without Yucca.  And, if the amount charged to every KWH of electricity were allowed to be accessed by private companies rather than the Federal Government, solutions to the “waste” problem would be to recycle and reuse the valuable materials rather than to use a 34 billion dollar dump. 

Finally you harshly charge pro-nuclear people with racism.  Cancer rates near mines were historically higher because when you combine radon gas with heavy smoking (and miners are historically heavy smokers) you have a deadly combination.  However, venting the shafts properly and restricting smoking eliminates most of the hazard.  We have known reserves in the USA that can be safely mined, it is those who restrict us accessing uranium in areas we can control safety in that drive up the price in countries where dictators rule and poverty controls.  I doubt you can sustain an argument that Natural Gas is some how less abusive to the poor of the earth. 

I support nuclear fission because it is the best solution for us to generate electricity, power ships and trains and even produce synthetic fuels to power ICE with and because we might have a 100 year supply of natural gas – at the current rate of use, and we might have 450 years of coal.  With fission of Thorium in breeder reactors we have a 10,000 year or longer supply of energy.  I would like that valuable methane to still be around for my great grand children to be able to use, and perhaps even my great great grand children.  Squandering it on electrical production to day, when we could use fission, seems very selfish to me.

Rod Adams

Jan. 31, 2011, 7:16 p.m.

@Jan Steinman

Feel free to toss the “too cheap to meter” comment. I will respond with a link to an analysis I wrote last week:

http://atomicinsights.blogspot.com/2011/01/40-year-old-nuclear-plants-can-produce.html

The title is “40-year-old nuclear plants can produce electricity that is too cheap to meter - that capability angers the competition”

You are right that you will find many articles in the “pro business” Wall Street Journal that express doubts about the value of nuclear energy. It is not surprising - nuclear energy is a major competitive threat to the established fossil fuel and subsidized renewable energy business. Those businesses have been major advertisers for many years and continue to buy a lot more ad space than the nuclear industry has ever purchased.

Since you do not like talking about potential, let’s talk about reality. The world currently uses just 65,000 tons of uranium each year to fuel enough nuclear power plants to produce 30% more energy for the world market than Saudi Arabia does. Saudi Arabia sells about 9 million barrels of oil per day. It takes about 7.4 barrels to equal a ton, so Saudi Arabia produces about 450,000,000 tons of oil each year.

The compact nature of nuclear energy and the low cost per unit of heat are reality, even though we do not use very much of the potential. The problem is not the technology, the problem is that it is very threatening to some very rich and powerful people.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights

Jan Steinman

Jan. 30, 2011, 1:10 p.m.

Rod Adams wrote, “It is almost impossible to imagine running out of those materials.”

Well, perhaps you simply lack imagination? I not only find possible, but likely, within the lifetime of most people reading this.

“... especially when a mere nine gram pellet of commercial nuclear fuel contains as much potential energy as 20 tons of coal.”

Yes, we’ve heard all that hype before: “Too cheap to meter!”

I don’t listen to “potential energy” arguments. There’s a guy on another thread claiming that with just 1/10th of an inch of rain on his 2,000 sqft roof, he has 11,000 watts of potential energy. “All you have to do is harvest it! There’s no energy shortage!” Yea, right.

The devil is in the details. The reality of nuclear energy is that no insurance company will touch it and it currently costs more than wind or micro-hydro and nearly as much as photovoltaic, once you strip it of subsidies, supports, and incentives. After sixty years of research and development, the “1% of the potential” that you cite turns out to be a realistic return for nuclear energy, due to a multitude of practical problems that stand in the way of getting a better yield.

Goethe wrote, “a confusion of the real with the ideal never goes unpunished.” If you insist on citing the “potential” of nuclear energy as though it were real, I’m going to keep rubbing “too cheap to meter” in your face.

Then there’s “peak uranium,” which could be here much sooner than anyone imagines, especially if a “nuclear renaissance” increases demand without some increase in supply. Currently, 40% of nuclear fuel comes from dismantled weapons, and discoveries of new reserves peaked in the ‘80’s.

“Perhaps the most worrying problem is the misconception that uranium is plentiful.” This doesn’t come from some wild-eyed, hair-shirt eco-freak; it comes from the prestigious “Technology Review,” published by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And similar articles show up from the wildly pro-business Wall Street Review.

If technical universities and the business community are skeptical, who is going to research, fund and build these things? The deficit-bloated federal government?

Of course, thorium is much more plentiful, but no reactors exist outside of tiny university laboratory devices—there are no “shovel ready” designs available. As for plutonium, the only commercial plutonium reactor tried in the US melted down on its first test in 1966, near Monroe, Michigan. (I know; a high-school friend’s father was an engineer there at the time, and he died of leukemia less than a decade later.)

France has had a good run with the Phoenix and Super Phoenix plutonium machines, but they have halted further development, due to disposal problems.

And disposal remains quite a problem! Modern nuclear economics relies on “free externalities” in order to compete with even solar cell technology. Current nuclear energy is an “open ended” system—the radioactive waste from both pre- and post-production is immense, and with the demise of Yucca mountain (and the NIMBY factor elsewhere), there is no where to put the stuff.

People living near uranium mines have many times the cancer rates and other health problems as the general population. But don’t worry too much about them, they’re mostly “brown skinned” people! At least the mercury and CO2 from coal plant effect rich and poor alike!

Thank you for clearly stating your bias in your signature, Rod. It’s important to have blind cheerleaders rooting for fringe technologies, because it keeps the opposition honest. But please spare us the “potential” arguments—human civilization doesn’t have another 60 years for a small increment in nuclear “potential” before things start falling apart.

Rod Adams

Jan. 30, 2011, 3:30 a.m.

@Jan Steinman - please go back and read my comment. I was NOT talking about fossil fuel. I fully recognize the limitations of that source of heat - we are rapidly depleting material that it took millions of years to store up and process through geologic heat and pressure.

I was referring to the nearly inexhaustible source of heat that comes from fissioning uranium, thorium and plutonium. It is almost impossible to imagine running out of those materials, especially when a mere nine gram pellet of commercial nuclear fuel contains as much potential energy as 20 tons of coal. Right now, we are not using the nuclear fuel efficiently - we only use about 5% of the potential in that fuel pellet and it took 81 grams of natural uranium to make that 9 gram pellet.

In other words, our current utilization is a bit less than 1% of the potential. The good news is that we have not discarded any of the recyclable waste; we can make new fuel from old and power human society for tens of thousands of years. By that time, we will be able to use mass conversion of hydrogen (nuclear fusion.)

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights

Jan Steinman

Jan. 29, 2011, 8:53 p.m.

One myth about natgas is that it is domestic.

In reality, the US imports much of its natural gas, primarily from Canada, but also from Mexico.

There is some comfort that these nations are not as antagonistic as OPEC nations, and are safely imprisoned by NAFTA (which requires Canada to continue exporting natgas even if Canada’s domestic needs suffer).

And yet, consumption growth is out-stripping North American production growth—North America is past “peak gas,” and will have to rely on Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) tankers for future growth.

There is significant “NIMBY” opposition to LNG tanker terminals for fear of pollution and explosion and that they will make terrorist targets.

In reality, NO fossil fuel supply can continue to grow indefinitely. Rod Adams assertion, “Use all you want. We’ll make more,” is sadly representative of most Americans. In reality, we should be preparing for the sort of thrift he decries, as fossil fuel, and subsequent economic activity, goes into decline.

(I don’t have specific references, but much of this is documented in “High Noon For Natural Gas,” by Julian Darley.)

Allan Rubin

Jan. 28, 2011, 5:27 p.m.

The EPA analysis is linked at the beginning of this article on the top left under documents.  It is the first one.

Jeff

Jan. 28, 2011, 4:49 p.m.

Can someone please provide a link or title to the “new EPA analysis” that is frequently noted?
Thank you!

David Blackmon

Jan. 28, 2011, 8:48 a.m.

What a joke this article and this lunatic fringe website is.  A complete non-story here.

And focusing on CO2 is a joke in and of itself, given that natural gas reduces the following actual pollutant emissions over coal:  NOx - 80% reduction; SOX - 99% reduction; Mercury - 100% reduction; Lead - 100% reduction.

A little balanced reporting effort would have pointed all of this out without my having to reply.

Leigh Haugen

Jan. 28, 2011, 8:40 a.m.

When are you ‘reporters’ going to quit referencing climate change in your articles discussing energy sources. Anthropogenic Global Warming was the greatest scam in world history. Man is not changing the climate, the climate always changes and our minuscule contribution to ‘greenhouse’ gas has virtually no influence. Please try to regain some credibility and just discuss the merits of different energy sources without always trying to inject the failed AGW scam into your reporting.

j. steel

Jan. 28, 2011, 1:13 a.m.

who cares about the global warming fraud? get a life

Rod Adams

Jan. 27, 2011, 6:53 p.m.

@Karl Stevens - I have an open and inquiring mind. However, after about 40 years of reading at least one book per week (ever since the 4th grade), I am pretty sure that one book will not change my way of thinking or my observations of reality.

I have a pretty fair amount of experience with a large number of people. I am pretty sure that your source is not terribly reliable.

Tom Stacy

Jan. 27, 2011, 4 p.m.

The author here fails to distinguish between energy and capacity value when discussing wind energy.  Capacity value is basically electrical energy x the ability to produce it in steady streams or in response to changes in demand.  Wind, as it is sold into grids, offers little of either feature.

WRT gas, wind energy relies on gas capacity entanglement.  For a wind energy facility that produces 30% of its nameplate rating over time, 70% of its rating must come from gas, coal or hydro capacity if all of the wind energy is to be consumed and used to replace capacity resources like coal.  For various reasons, gas is the logical choice in most of the US as wind’s codependent assistant.

GAS PLANTS BURN LESS EFFICIENTLY WHEN ENTANGLED WITH WIND ENERGY.  Working through the numbers, then, in comparing a “gas only” substitute for coal or a “gas+wind+transmission” substitute for coal, the net savings from wind dwindle, and costs per unit of emission avoidance “necessarily skyrocket.”

Karl Stevens

Jan. 27, 2011, 12:56 p.m.

@Rod Adams: Have an open mind. Read the book What We Leave Behind. It’s among the most powerful of books that deal with value systems, denial, ego, hubris, technoworship, and the refusal of overconsuming people to scale back their killing of the earth so that all creatures, including humans, will better flourish.

gudrun scott

Jan. 27, 2011, 12:05 p.m.

- is the climate change perspective the most critical urgent issue?  Some warn that climate change beyond 400 ppm atmospheric CO2 is uncharted territory leading to mass extinction of species and a life on earth that we cannot imagine and due to the feedback mechanism pouring out more instability and no methods to stop it once it is in full swing.  That is why planning on massive fossil fuel into the future is unacceptable and it has nothing to do with it being cheap or not cheap.

Under these circumstances, nuclear might be grabbed as an option- nuclear waste is not imminent but the lag time for nuclear is also decades.

Maybe we better include lifestyle in the discussion -

Main point about lifestyle it is NOT about how dreadful conservation is—quite the opposite—it is fun, stimulating and affirmative of life—that is what we need to get across—but too often the Media ( and corporations)  is sold out to buy crap and sell ignorant programing and mute the communities themselves getting to know each other and organizing…. call up the FCC and change the great tool—the TV.

Nancy E. Roth

Jan. 27, 2011, 9:40 a.m.

I commend this carefully researched ProPublica article about natural gas, but wonder why the author (and editor) did not extend the same care to what he said about nuclear (fission, not 50-years-to-commercial-application fusion). It’s jarring in such an otherwise cogent presentation, based on facts, and nothing but facts.

Here is the sentence:

“Nuclear energy is less polluting than gas from a climate-changing perspective, but it is costly and viewed skeptically in the United States because of the dangers of disposing of radioactive waste. “

“Costly”: Compared to what, per unit of energy produced?
“Dangers”: Which dangers, and how do they compare to the risks of alternatives?
“Radioactive Waste”: Not waste at all but an important energy resource for the future, which can meanwhile be safely isolated and stored.

Oh yeah, and “viewed skeptically”: Who views it skeptically, please, especially if it’s put on a level playing field with the alternatives?

Rod Adams

Jan. 27, 2011, 6:23 a.m.

@Frank Trades:

Why are you skeptical about the ability of 6 billion people dumping 30 billion tons of stuff into the atmosphere every year for decades to make some alterations in the climate?

Have you never seen the impact that humans can make on the air we breathe when you fly into the East Coast from the Atlantic Ocean or into China from the Pacific?

Are you listening to the hydrocarbon industry?

Frank Trades

Jan. 27, 2011, 6:19 a.m.

If I belived man could shift the earth’s climate, I’d be really worried. 

Just because there is an apparent correlation between variables, that does not imply a cause-and-effect conclusion.

I suggest you go live in the Australian outback and leave this country alone.

Rod Adams

Jan. 27, 2011, 5:07 a.m.

@Karl Stevens:

Feel free to conserve as much as you like. However, keep your judgements about the way that the rest of us choose to live to yourself. As long as we are careful about the kind of electricity that we use and work hard to choose sources that have a minimal effect on the environment, I prefer to use the model once famously proposed by Jay Leno in his Doritos commercials.

“Use all you want. We’ll make more.”

It is austerity that kept my parents living in a Depression for a decade. Lack of markets and sales because everyone got really good at not using anything they did not need led to an awful lot of suffering, ill health and poverty. I, for one, see no reason to go there again.

We have an amazing source of reliable heat that produces no waste that has to be dumped into the environment. We keep it all closely controlled and monitored, stored in a safe place for the use of future generations.

The main reason that you have been taught to fear the use of that fission power is that it would severely disrupt the profitability of selling coal, natural gas and oil.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights

Karl Stevens

Jan. 27, 2011, 2:48 a.m.

These types of articles are useful, but they avoid the real issues. It is not about cleaner or less clean energy sources. It is about how we need to immediately change our lifestyles and infrastructure to greatly reduce energy consumption, as soon as possible. Take a look at a book such as What We Leave Behind, by Derrick Jensen. This book looks at the larger issues that articles such as this one will never deal with.

gudrun scott

Jan. 26, 2011, 11:23 p.m.

Pro Publica received the Pulitzer prize in 2010 for investigative journalism and many other prizes including some given to Abrahm Lustgarten right here http://www.propublica.org/awards

Al Gore was a devoted politician for many years and received the Nobel prize and I doubt that he get motivated to just plain rack up profits like some industry hacks might….

Cornell and Stanford are renowned.

To oppose global warming and natural gas by attacking these people and institutions—- these folks must be out of gas( no pun intended) and can’t think of anything else but ad hominid attacks

therapy

Jan. 26, 2011, 9:35 p.m.

why are the asphalt roads near asylum, pa and near the susquehanna river being pummeled into gravel roads by heavy water trucks?

talk about an unexpected unpleasant bumpy ride.

ch4

pro

Jan. 26, 2011, 8:41 p.m.

Where can we read the article’s source material?

Lori

Jan. 26, 2011, 5:58 p.m.

For those of you who still support the mad dash for natural gas in this country, I suggest that you buy property that has a gas well on it, drink and bathe in the contaminated water and breath the toxic fumes created by hydraulic fracturing.  Oh, that’s right, it’s o.k. as long as its not in YOUR backyard, right?

Why aren’t we all demanding renewable energy development instead of allowing our government to continue to subsidize the oil and gas industry and pollute our lives?  I’m sick to death of profits before people in this country.

Carlos Briones

Jan. 26, 2011, 3:51 p.m.

The Cornell researchers ignore the methane desorption that occurs when coal is interrupted from its home in the ground.  Methane is released every time coal is disturbed:
-initial mining disruption
-loading on to trains
-vibrations occurring during transport
-unloading from trains
-conveying to on-site storage
-conveying to the furnace

Herbert and Marion Sandler (the owners of ProPublica) appear to be willing to fund any bogus controversy with that undermines the development of shale gas.  Their mouthpiece (Lustgarten) seems content to float “could be” or “might be” controversies – even when the facts don’t support his thesis. 

The real controversy is -why would a family that made billions destroying America’s economy feel compelled to undermine shale gas development?  Is it to support overseas LNG (see Soros Papua New Guinea)?  Is it to help Russian interests maintain pipeline dominance over Western Europe?

Is it really a surprise that Cornell (not exactly an institution known for petroleum engineering)researchers are trying to undermine private industry in their bucolic paradise while local farm owners are being slaughtered (figuratively) by New York’s oppressive property and income taxes?

A less sensational, but more accurate title might be “Pipeline infrastructure needs to be updated to keep pace with modern natural gas production”.

C’mon propublica - you can do better than this.

gudrun.scott@gmail.com

Jan. 26, 2011, 2:53 p.m.

A convincing arguement for global warming is the Keeping Curve—look it up in Wiki

David Keeling a scientist tested the atmospheric CO2 level ever since around 1960 and later was replaced by his son doing this now for decades.

The curve of CO2 in the atmosphere waves around with tiny waves during each season but the overall trend is always UP UP and AWAY!!!!

This upward curve took off with industrialization in the late 19th century—

Earth was in balance:  animals exhale CO2 and plants use or sequester CO2 as a building block as they use chlorophyl to convert the sun’s energy rays into cellulose, wood, sugar,food for animals, as well as fossil fuel like oil and gas and coal all of them were plants and animals who ate plants and/or animals at one time.

Trouble is anthropomorphic—due to the influence of mankind who invented combustion machine:  the machine belches out CO2 but the machine does not do what a ordinary blade of grass does: convert the suns energy along with CO2 into a energy fuel. The machines have tipped the balance on the planet because the humans love machines- flying in jets gets humans around so slick and now we even fly around the food we eat etc.and we use machines to dig up the topsoil and stop the plants from living as we like mahogany tables more than mahogany wood in the rain forest.

So that is why the Keeling curve is on the upswing due to machines and Dr Hanson of the Goddard Space center predicts we will be getting into weird feedback systems to be unable to scale back the global warming that has taken off with the CO2 blanket around the globe.

Others say that sun spots cause global warming—no- that trend is all over the map and not on a steady rise as is quite clear—we now have animals and plants and also machines tipping the balance in only one direction: more CO2 .

Scientists are not debating the conclusions— oil and gas companies are the climate change deniers because they want to rake in profits from fossil fuels. Like the tobacco industry was trying to persuade the folks that cigarettes do not cause cancer and trying to hide scientific facts from the public for years.

thank you for this discussion.

Kevin Schmidt

Jan. 26, 2011, 1:53 p.m.

Global Warming is real. Here is the undeniable proof:

Combined global land and ocean annual surface temperatures for 2010 tied with 2005 as the warmest such period on record…

In the contiguous United States, 2010 was the 14th consecutive year with an annual temperature above the long-term average. Since 1895, the temperature across the nation has increased at an average rate of approximately 0.12 F per decade.

http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2011/20110112_globalstats.html

Globally, the ten hottest years on record have all occurred since 1998…

...on average, when looking at the entire world, the long term trend shows an unmistakable increase in global surface temperatures, in a way that is likely to dramatically alter the planet.

http://www.skepticalscience.com/1934-hottest-year-on-record.htm

Kevin Schmidt

Jan. 26, 2011, 1:44 p.m.

Tom B, Please stop lying about Al Gore. He never said that because it is simply not true.

Credible climate scientists around the world came to consensus years ago, and they agree that Global Warming is real and is caused primarily by the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of rain forests.

Tom B.

Jan. 26, 2011, 12:41 p.m.

Someone needs to catch up. Al Gore has finally admitted the whole Global Warming scenario was nothing but a big ruse. Of course this comes after he’s made his millions from the rhetoric he spewed out for decades.

Gudrun Scott

Jan. 26, 2011, 10:29 a.m.

A timely invitation on Feb 4, 2011 can also be seen on line AFTER Feb 4:

EZRAS ROUND TABLE
SYSTEMS ENGINEERING SEMINAR SERIES
CORNELL UNIVERSITY
bringing together faculty, students, and practitioners whose work centers on, or involves systems

Date:  Friday, February 4, 2011
Time:  12:15 p.m.
Location:  253 Rhodes Hall

Speaker:  Mark Z. Jacobson
          Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
          Stanford University

Title:  Powering the World with Wind, Water, and Sun

Abstract:  This talk discusses a plan to power 100% of the worlds energy for all purposes from wind, water, and sunlight (WWS) within the next 20-40 years. The study starts by reviewing and ranking major proposed energy-related solutions to global warming, air pollution mortality, and energy security while considering other impacts of the proposed solutions, such as on water supply, land use, resource availability, reliability, wildlife, and catastrophic risk. It then evaluates a scenario for powering the world on the energy options determined to be the best while considering future energy demand, the number of each device required, land and ocean areas required, materials required, the ability of WWS resources to match demand, transmission requirements, costs, and policies needed. The study concludes that powering the world with existing wind, water, and solar technologies, which are found to be the best when all factors are considered, is technically feasible but politically challenging. Relevant papers can be found at http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/susenergy2030.html .

Bio:  Jacobson is Director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University. He is also a Courtesy Professor of Energy Resources Engineering, Senior Fellow of the Woods Institute for the Environment, and Senior Fellow of the Precourt Institute for Energy. He received a B.S. in Civil Engineering with distinction, an A.B. in Economics with distinction, and an M.S. in Environmental Engineering from Stanford University, in 1988. He received an M.S. in Atmospheric Sciences in 1991 and a PhD in Atmospheric Sciences in 1994 from UCLA and has been on the faculty at Stanford since 1994. His work relates to the development and application of numerical models to understand better the effects of energy systems and vehicles on climate and air pollution and the analysis of renewable energy resources.

Can’t make it in person? View online at: http://cornellmediasite.cit.cornell.edu/mediasite/Viewer/?peid=6bcc90d6b220433889f9d45aa4b29d721d .

Lecture links may not be active until just before the beginning of the lecture.

Robert Ressl

Jan. 26, 2011, 10:03 a.m.

What is missing from this and most other discussions is the cause and effect relationship of the various greenhouse gases and the global warming/climate change issues.  We really don’t know if cutting down on carbon dioxide emissions with appreciably change the climate.  There is just too much assumption and conjecture in the science.  However, we do not that methane, coal, oil, wind, solar, hydro, etc. are all finite.  Consumption of resources that don’t renew as quickly as we consume them is a path designed to cause a calamity just as continued growth of the demand for all these resources is doomed to result in a calamity.  At some time we have to recognize we are finite and the faster we consume the quicker we reach calamity.

Rod Adams

Jan. 26, 2011, 4:43 a.m.

There is little doubt that the hype about hydrofracking and natural gas as a bridge fuel is a well planned effort by Big Oil to remain dominant and to discourage the investment of time and money that will be required to implement a true alternative to fossil fuel.

I am NOT talking about unreliable, weak and diffuse wind or solar - there is a good reason why BP, Chevron, Shell, and ExxonMobil spend so much of their advertising budget TALKING about those alternatives. None of them threaten their cash flow from selling oil, natural gas and coal. (By the way, natural gas comes out of essentially the same wells drilled and owned by the same companies as other forms of petroleum do.)

The real alternative to burning hydrocarbons for heat is to fission uranium, thorium and plutonium.

Those people who say that nuclear fission does not reduce oil dependence need to understand a few things about the energy market. Before nuclear, the US produced about 17% of its electricity by burning oil. That portion is approaching zero today, but ONLY because fission captured 20% of the market in about 20 years. France, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan were also strongly dependent upon oil for electrical power until they built their current nuclear fleets. Today, the UAE, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt are working feverishly to build the infrastructure that they need to replace oil and gas in electrical power plants with nuclear fission.

The US has a fleet of aircraft carriers and a fleet of submarines that consume no oil at all for propulsion or electricity - 40 years ago, the US Navy was the world’s single largest customer for the oil industry. There is no technical reason why nuclear fission cannot replace oil as the propulsion source for commercial shipping - it has a 50 year track record of success in ship propulsion.

According to the Energy Information Agency, the US still burns about a 3.8 billion gallons per year of heating oil; I live in an all electric home, so I know from direct personal experience that electricity can replace oil in heating. (http://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/index.cfm?page=heating_oil_use)

The US locomotive fleet burns another 3.8 billion galls of oil per year, but we have known how to run wires to trains for more than 100 years. (http://www.bts.gov/publications/national_transportation_statistics/2004/html/table_04_17.html)

Fission is obviously a direct competitor with burning natural gas in electric power plants. It is not just a little bit less polluting; the best available studies indicate that the TOTAL lifecycle emissions from a nuclear power plant amount to about 7-13 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour compared to 600 grams for natural gas, 850 grams for oil and about 1000 grams for coal. Nuclear fission is essentially tied with wind turbines, but fission plants can run as many as 8760 hours per year at full power. (17 of the 100 nuclear plants in the US produced 100% or more of their rated power for 2010.)

When I hear anyone talk about gas as a bridge to a renewable utopia, I suspect I am listening to a natural gas salesman who knows full well that the utopia does not exist. I suspect the speaker of working to maintain the customer base of fossil fuel addicts by not letting them understand that there is a real alternative to burning hydrocarbons for heat.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights

Gudrun Scott

Jan. 26, 2011, 1:21 a.m.

In this calculation of shale gas has the driving around of trucks to bring the hydrofracking fluid to the well been included?  One hydrofracking of a shale gas well requires up to 5 million gallons of water and a truck hold about 6,000 gallons so that amounts to about 500 truck trips one way - from possibly far away. Wells are fracked more than once.

Has the energy to build the holding tanks with heavy equipment, the plateform, the gravel mines dug to produce the sand used in the hydrofracking, - and the plastic that is used to coat the sand , the pumping of the fluid , the building of all the roads—

all that requires belching out of carbon dioxide… it matters not that this comes from gasoline or diesel, the CO2 that is belched out is part of processing the natural gas.

Also, Calvin Tillman, mayor of Dish Texas has reported that industry was reluctant to capture fugitive gases because it would only pay after 3 years and he recommends that industry needs to be regulated to do this process.  The industry could be influenced by the fact that these errant gases are not visible to the public unless one visualized the compressors and processors with infrared - then the gas is evident according to Mr Tillman who has experienced this in his home town with growing air pollution, especially unhealthy if it contains hydrogen sulfide that causes asthma in children.

Should the greenhouse gases caused by treating the illnesses and hospitalization caused by pollution also be factored?

The carbon dioxide is 380 ppm now and we could be reaching the tipping point above 400 ppm and in Australia with the flooding—people are starting to think that climate change is moving forward—so we need to make the right moves soon—including oldfashioned conservation and simply scaling back on any use of energy and even population control of humans and not plan for more than 20 years of an obviously polluting process.

For those who still argue that we are using up the fossil fuel from OPEC—I think it is more like getting it from Canada and we are actually exporting the shalegas now.

In the future when we have wind and solar, we really will need the natural gas as a true bridge energy because you cannot shut nuclear on and off or a electric plant on/off but a gas can be controlled with a spigot when the sun does not shine or the wind does not blow.  However, if we use up the gas now to export it, we will not have it for that real bridge later.

Lastly, we are constantly talking about not producing a deficit for our children—why are we so eager to pump out the shale gas now—it can only be done once. Maybe we should do it only slowly and learn from our mistakes.

Mary Sweeney

Jan. 26, 2011, 1:03 a.m.

To Mr. Revkin:

It would be bad enough to put up with the many dangers associated with shale gas extraction if the fuel being produced were truly “green” and if that fuel were an actual long-term answer to our nation’s energy problems. To put our health, water, air, homes, forests, and farmland at risk for a short-term “bridge” fuel that may not present any significant greenhouse-gas advantage over other fossil fuels is utterly absurd….and immoral.

The money that would have to be spent to extract significant amounts of shale gas, build the accompanying infrastructure, and attempt to remedy all of the accompanying damage to the environment and human health would be much better spent on energy conservation and renewable energy sources, both of which offer real, long-term solutions to our problems.

Please do not imagine that shale gas wells are sited out in a field somewhere far from water sources and homes. I have recently been talking with someone in PA who is very upset because a shale gas well is planned for a site just a few hundred feet from her door—this is not an uncommon occurrence.

With all due respect, if you think shale gas is the answer, then I would encourage you to take up full-time residence in a shale gas extraction region: I am sure you will be able to find someone currently living on the gas field who would be very happy to sell you their house. In fact, you may be able to purchase a house for very little indeed, provided you don’t mind relying on bottled water.

me

Jan. 25, 2011, 10:42 p.m.

Hate to gang up on Tom Sherer,  BUT,  Natural gas pursuits will not save life and limb of ANY U.S. soldiers. They are over there because our multinational energy corporations want absolute control over ALL the worlds fossil energy.  Economic hitmen and Jackals failed, so force of war is the final solution, they will not be told NO. At home agendas, don’t alter the foreign conquest one whit. I must disagree somewhat with Allan Rubin on the foreign purchase of our energy sources. Our multinationals are doing a tradeoff,.... including foreign participation in order to garner bigger end games, ie: The hostile takeover of Rio Tinto International by BHP BILLITON, as reported in the London Finacial Times.June 6 2008. In order to get around regulators they had to find a way to dispose of Rio’s iron ore assets in Australia. With China controlling the steel industry, they had to negotiate deals on that front. The EU, Australia, Asia and U.S. were all players in the Regulatory clearance that was a precondition of BHP’s bid. A BHP/RIO TINTO (flagship of the Rothschilds) merger is staggering. According to EPA records,  BHP BILLITON, as of 1991, was already claiming the distinction of being the worlds largest diversified extraction company in the world. According to Marius Kloppers, chief exec of BHP BILLITON,This deal is characterized as, “not 1 + 1 = 3 but,  2+1=5. Many deals are cut in back rooms, but one can be sure the U.S. corporations have the upper hand. The money does go offshore…...to avoid accountability, and for financing even bigger and better secret ops.

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