Energy: The remedy that’s plausible

By V. K. Mathur, Ph.D; P.E.
Durham
Sunday, February 20, 2011

To lay the foundation for what he called “winning the future,” President Obama has chosen to concentrate attention on clean energy. He has set an ambitious goal — that by 2035, 80% of America’s electricity will come from low-carbon energy sources.

If his purposes are to reduce dependence on Middle East oil, combat climate change, or create jobs, those purposes are handicapped by the administration’s own energy policies.

Obama said a switch to renewable sources, nuclear power, clean coal and natural gas is essential. But despite large federal subsidies and state mandates, the promise of renewables like wind turbines and solar arrays is unfulfilled. Wind and solar energy combined supply less than 5% of the nation’s electricity.

Nor can we rely on nuclear power’s comeback in view of the high cost of building new plants and the scarcity of funds for federal loan guarantees. Carbon capture-and-storage, which looks good on paper, has yet to be tested in a full-scale demonstration at a coal plant to determine whether it’s safe or practical.

Right now natural gas is the remedy that’s plausible. It has less than half the carbon content of coal, and it has the potential to provide an increasing share of America’s energy needs over the next several decades, doubling its share of the energy market to 40 percent, from 20 percent. The potential for natural gas has grown with the development of new drilling technologies that are enabling energy companies to reach gas deposits such as those in shale that previously were inaccessible.

The problem is that natural gas is not getting the support it needs from either the administration or Congress. No one seriously questions there are vast deposits of natural gas below ground. The politics above ground are quite another matter.

President Obama said he wants to raise taxes on the oil-and-natural gas industry. But the industry is a major employer in the United States. It supports more than 9.2 million jobs, and it’s an indispensable part of the economic recovery and putting millions of Americans back to work. Oil and gas industry jobs, however, are only as strong as the policies that support them.

The Administration needs to promote policies that will enhance, rather than hold back, domestic production. But it has done exactly the opposite. Although untapped offshore areas have potentially sizable deposits of oil and natural gas that could be produced to stimulate the economy and reduce dependence on the Middle East, the Administration has imposed a moratorium on drilling off the Atlantic Coast and in the eastern Gulf of New Mexico. To make matters worse, the Interior Department has delayed drilling in shallow waters operations for months. As a result, many rigs are idle, some have moved to other countries, and thousands of workers have been laid off.

Similarly, shale-gas drilling is hampered by opposition from environmental groups, especially in the Marcellus shale, one of the world’s largest deposits of natural gas that underlies 50,000 square miles in New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. The Marcellus shale holds an estimated $1 trillion worth of natural gas — its energy content exceeds that of Iran’s oil. Shale gas is a potentially huge source of jobs, tax revenue, economic activity and energy security.

Aside from a few minor spills involving the disposal of waste water from hydraulic fracturing, drilling has been done safely and efficiently. Regrettably, there is a move by some environmental groups concerned about possible pollution of groundwater systems to ban shale-gas drilling altogether. Short of that, they want shale-gas regulation turned over from state governments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but that isn’t necessary. The states do an effective job.

So far opponents have succeeded in interrupting shale-gas production in New York, where a moratorium on drilling was imposed, and then lifted, but whose future is uncertain. They are now trying to stop natural gas production in Pennsylvania. West Virginia could be next. A strong statement from the White House in support of natural gas production is not a perfect remedy, but it would help. At stake is our nation’s supply of natural gas not only now but for many decades into the future.

V. K. Mathur is a professor emeritus at the University of New Hampshire, Department of Chemical Engineering.

( Original Article )

Energy: The remedy that’s plausible – Fosters.

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Posted on February 20, 2011, in AMERICAS, Natural Gas, Oil & Gas - offshore and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off.

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