The GAS is Greener

“IN April, Gov. Jerry Brown made headlines by signing into law an ambitious mandate that requires California to obtain one-third of its electricity from renewable energy sources like sunlight and wind by 2020. But there’s the rub: while energy sources like sunlight and wind are free and naturally replenished, converting them into large quantities of electricity requires vast amounts of natural resources — most notably, land. Even a cursory look at these costs exposes the deep contradictions in the renewable energy movement.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/08/opinion/08bryce.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha212

California's peak electricity demand is about 52,000 megawatts. The one-third target is about 17,000 megawatts of renewalable eneregy. Let’s assume that California will get half of that capacity from solar and half from wind. The new Ivanpah solar plant now under construction at a cost of $2 billion will provide 370 megawats of solar generation and cover 3,600 acres, about five and a half square miles. To produce 8500 megawatts of solar capacity will require at least 23 Ivanpah projects covering about 129 square miles. However, in April, the federal Bureau of Land Management ordered a halt to construction on part of the facility out of concern for the desert tortoise, which is protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Wind energy projects require even more land. The Roscoe wind farm in Texas, which has a capacity of 781.5 megawatts, covers about 154 square miles. Again, the math is straightforward: to have 8,500 megawatts of wind generation capacity, California would likely need to set aside an area equivalent to more than 70 Manhattans.

Industrial solar and wind projects also require long swaths of land for power lines. Last year, despite opposition from environmental groups, San Diego Gas & Electric started construction on the 117-mile Sunrise Powerlink, which will carry electricity from solar, wind and geothermal projects located in Imperial County, Calif., to customers in and around San Diego. In January, environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit to prevent the $1.9 billion line from cutting through a nearby national forest.

Not all environmentalists ignore renewable energy’s land requirements. The Nature Conservancy has coined the term “energy sprawl” to describe it. Unfortunately, energy sprawl is only one of the ways that renewable energy makes heavy demands on natural resources.

Beyond the enviromentals concerns, massive amounts of steel are required for wind projects.

Natural gas still appears to be the energy of today and of the next few decades. I find it very interesting that enviromentalists are now fighting among themselves. They all seem to want to reduce MMGW with renewable sun and wind energy, but some are not willing to pay the price in land and perceived dangers to the enviroment.

As with most things, there are tradeoffs to be made. I am not against wind and solar power. But, there are tremendous costs involved which include more than just money. I would urge the readers to consider these things when advocating for rushing these projects.

Posted by Royal Flush at June 8, 2011 1:05 PM
Comments
Comment #324184

Exactly right. Natural gas is a game changer. It is not accepted for three big reasons.

1. inexpensive gas makes it more difficult for proponents of expensive alternatives, as you say.

2. The process of getting gas was done w/o government direction. How embarrassing years of government directions produced almost nothing in energy independence, and all of a sudden something just comes along.

3. It hits the pessimists where it hurts. Some people like the idea of being at the “end”. They were counting on running out of oil to impose their backward vision. If energy is cheap, plentiful and relatively clean, it allows the free market, which they dislike, to continue to prosper.

Posted by: C&J at June 8, 2011 1:49 PM
Comment #324186

I forgot - a good article about the superiority of private enterprise in energy, talking about gas. http://www.aei.org/article/103697

Posted by: C&J at June 8, 2011 1:53 PM
Comment #324190

Thanks for the link C&J. New oil production is now booming in parts of Texas due to fracking. No government agency and no elected politician can begin to compare with the dynamic and proven engine of commerce…capitalism.

Posted by: Royal Flush at June 8, 2011 2:08 PM
Comment #324193

Royal

BTW - you posted this article twice.

Posted by: C&J at June 8, 2011 4:10 PM
Comment #324196

Posted twice…hmmm, I am not very good at this and wonder how that happened. What do I have to do to change that? I only see it presented once above.

Posted by: Royal Flush at June 8, 2011 4:19 PM
Comment #324198

Go to the movable type site and click on “entries.” You will see two articles with the same title posted at the same time. Delete the bottom one by checking the box and hitting the delete button up top. It takes a little while to see the result on the site.

Posted by: C&J at June 8, 2011 4:37 PM
Comment #324199

RF,
Ever hear of Dimrock, PA?
http://www.vanityfair.com/business/features/2010/06/fracking-in-pennsylvania-201006
The people of Dimrock may have a slightly different take on “the superiority of private energy enterprise”. Hydraulic fracking carries risks. Regulation and oversight will be necessary for this procedure. If private enterpriswe were left to itself, we could see more places like Dimrock, with disastrous levels of groundwater contamination and environmental degradation.

Natural gas does, in fact, seem to hold a lot of promise, particularly if relatively new procedures such as fracking and horizontal drilling work out. However, it’s worth remembering that natural gas is a temporary solution for domestic energy needs. Even with new, increased estimates for natural gas reserves in the US/Canada/Mexico, we will still need to import.

One figure suggested we would be importing 20% of our natural gas in 15 years. I would approach any such prediction with a generous grain of salt, since reserve estimates are changing a great deal due to the potentials of new drilling technologies. However, the point remains- natural gas is not a permanent panacea. We’ll still need to find a way to make an alternative energy work for the US, and solar power seems to be the best bet.

Posted by: phx8 at June 8, 2011 4:41 PM
Comment #324200

J2t2

The piece you link is a beautifully constructed piece of propaganda. I always like the faint to expense as in “Fracking is an energy- and resource-intensive process.” Of course, if it cost too much, nobody will do it, so unless a something is receiving a hefty subsidy or a government enforced monopoly, the problem is just not a problem. If it costs more to produce something than you can get for it, in a free market you will not do it.

I also like the “attack Cheney” part. The author goes to great length to mention Halliburton and the now more than decade-old Cheney connection. Then it reappears in “Up to 8,000 gallons of Halliburton-manufactured fracking fluid leaked from faulty supply pipes …” So if you overfill your gas tank and it spills, do you specify the manufacturer of the gas? The author was looking for another place to bring it up and he found it.

I am not saying this only to make fun of the article. I respect the author for his ability to weave in the hot-button words and phrases.

Anyway, I have been studying up on this process. Like all types of extraction, it causes some problems. IT needs to be studies and to some extent regulated. But attacks on fracking consist mostly of anecdotes and ghost stories.

I like the part about the animals “mysteriously” losing their hair. This has been happening to me for many years. I had a dog once that went almost completely bald, mysteriously. We never did figure it out, but it grew back.

There is also a matter of naturally occurring chemicals. You can find lots of things in water if you look for it and you can blame something nearby if you want. It reminds of the old ethnic joke about the plane crash in the cemetery. “Authorities cannot understand it. There were only 100 passengers on the plane but so far they have found 1000 bodies and they are still finding more.”

re temporary solutions - We have enough gas for a lifetime. Every solution is temporary. NOTHING is endlessly sustainable, neither in the natural or the human world. Sustainably only means long term with the possibility of smooth change. Natural gas gives us this.

I particularly like the fact that gas is so widely spread - unlike oil, which is the Lord’s joke on the world - he put so much of it under the worst sorts of people.

This is the first true energy “solution” I have seen in my life. We need to be careful and diligent, but it certainly is a reason for celebration.

Posted by: C&J at June 8, 2011 5:15 PM
Comment #324208

C&J, thanks for the help in deleting the duplicate. I will try to be more careful in the future.

Posted by: Royal Flush at June 8, 2011 6:48 PM
Comment #324211

Let me preface my comments by saying that I am optimistic regarding natural gas’s prospects. I think it will play a substantial part of our energy future, especially when one considers the synergy between it and solar/wind.

RF,
Thank you for drawing attention to these issues. Many people do not fully understand the implications of converting to a low-carbon infrastructure. Land-use changes are an important factor to be considered. This is especially true with solar power; photovoltaic cells have a very low albedo in order to maximize their energy production. Unfortunately, there is a non-negligible effect on Earth’s energy budget; especially when these photovoltaic cells are located in a desert, which has a very high albedo.

C&J,

if it cost too much, nobody will do it, so unless a something is receiving a hefty subsidy or a government enforced monopoly, the problem is just not a problem.

But it appears that the natural gas extractors are getting a pretty hefty subsidy. They are allowed to ruin aquifers and externalize much of the associated costs. I agree that the impact of fracking on groundwater and other aspects of the environment needs to be studied. If such studies conclude that fracking generates external costs, those costs must be borne by the natural gas extractors; any other solution would be a perversion of the free market. Also, remember that until we establish a carbon tax or Cap & Trade program, the fuels used in the fracking process remain heavily subsidized.

Despite its out-of-place attacks on Cheney, the Vanity Fair article shared by phx8 (not jt2t) paints a pretty disturbing picture of what happens when natural gas extraction occurs. unregulated.

BTW, if you are interested in another peculiar aspect of global warming, read this. Because of the impact solar power has on albedo, it is actually much better for us to paint our roofs white than to install solar photovoltaic cells! Unfortunately, I don’t know of a way we could internalize the external benefits from white roofs, which would incentivize people to paint their roofs white. Perhaps we could allow people to deduct white roofs from their carbon taxes in the future, but that would require enacting such a tax in the first place.

Posted by: Warped Reality at June 8, 2011 7:25 PM
Comment #324212

WR, thanks for the link pertaining to the albedo effect. I found it to be very interesting.

Posted by: Royal Flush at June 8, 2011 7:47 PM
Comment #324214

Warped

They are not ruining aquifers. Recall that there is significant regulation.

Beyond that, in today’s legal climate, no firm can expect to get away with creating actual damage like that.

Posted by: C&J at June 8, 2011 8:59 PM
Comment #324215

BTW - I recall the albedo effect from the 1970s. Back then, scientists like Carl Sagan told us that it was among the things that would cause global cooling.

Posted by: C&J at June 8, 2011 9:02 PM
Comment #324219
They are not ruining aquifers. Recall that there is significant regulation.

Beyond that, in today’s legal climate, no firm can expect to get away with creating actual damage like that.

Fracking is basically exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act; I don’t know where you get the notion that there is significant regulation.

There seems to be plenty of anecdotal evidence that fracking ruins aquifers; enough evidence to justify more detailed investigation before using the process any more. Believe me, I hope the claims that fracking damages sources of drinking water turn out to be false. I am excited about natural gas’s prospects; I just don’t think it is ready for prime time before we evaluate all of its environmental costs.

Today’s legal climate is extremly tolerant of letting people get away with destructive behavior like that. Look at current allegations regarding fracking. Look at how much trouble people have had to go through to recover from losses due a variety of other industrial activities (mining, air pollution, water pollution, etc). Many of these activities are continuing today without any fear or legal repercussions (look at fossil fuel combustion).

I recall the albedo effect from the 1970s. Back then, scientists like Carl Sagan told us that it was among the things that would cause global cooling.
I don’t know about Carl Sagan, but it is true that anthropogenic emissions create aerosols (mostly sulfur compounds) that increase the Earth’s albedo. This effect is called global dimming and is still an active area of research. Uncertainty in the forcing created by these aerosols is the single biggest contributor to uncertainty regarding the Earth’s future climate. Back in the ’70s a few scientists recognized the impact aerosols have on temperature and suggested that the recent temperature decline may be the result of aerosol pollution. Their claims were widely covered in a few news-magazines, but those claims failed to muster approval from the rigorous peer-review process. The hypothesis of global cooling never achieved much credibility in the scientific community which was already aware that it was at least cancelled ou by the positive forcing from greenhouse gases. Posted by: Warped Reality at June 8, 2011 9:53 PM
Comment #324224

Warped

The states regulate. There have been lots of reports re.

Posted by: C&J at June 8, 2011 11:12 PM
Comment #324225

C&J,

Yes, the states regulate. The question is how well the states regulate. The issue in Pennsylvania was that it wasn’t regulating very well leading to some spills and contamination from failure of drillers to adhere to appropriate practices. That was an enforcement issue. The more important issue in Pennsylvania is that discharge fluid from the drilling has been allowed to be processed by water sewage treatment plants ultimately discharged into major waterways and into the water table. Most states require the discharge to be deposited in deep wells.

Natural gas has great promise as a relatively clean and abundant fuel for the future. There are clearly threats to the environment from the drilling, i.e., water contamination, earthquakes, etc. Many of the most promising fields are in highly populated areas. It seems reasonable that national standards and monitoring systems should be developed to assure that the extraction is done with a reasonable level of safety. This is not the wild west. I think that the old Reagan line applies, trust but verify.


Posted by: Rich at June 8, 2011 11:42 PM
Comment #324232

Why so definitive on this prospect?

Oh, I might be definitive on things, too, if I read mainly articles from The Manhattan Institute.

There are a few things to keep in mind here.

Let’s review the science and engineering aspects of this. First, Natural Gas is a hydrocarbon fuel, and a fossil fuel. That makes its supply both limited, and its output a carbon emission.

Methane itself is also a very potent greenhouse gas

Our news sources of natural gas are shale formations, Shale being an sedimentary rock that tends to form in layers.

Shale gas is plentiful, but there’s a difficulty in getting to it. Put simply, the rock that holds the natural gas isn’t that porous, such that the gas would simply flow out. That’s where fracking comes in.

Hydraulic Fracturing is exactly what it sounds like. You’re breaking up otherwise impermeable rock by slamming it with high pressure fluid. But it’s worth noting that what you’re doing is breaking up the integrity of rock that was once solid.

We get our water through wells, too, often at shallower depths, and the flow of water is also affected by the formations of permeable and impermeable rock. So’s the flow of anything into that water from other formations. We’re seeing natural gas escaping into acquifers, but also toxic chemicals from the fracking process, whose product is poorly regulated at best.

This is problematic, really. If we have to, we can live without a fossil fuel. Living without safe drinking water, though, is a non-starter, of course. There is a real problem in being able to ignite your own drinking water.

And if that stuff is escaping into the drinking water, then it’s escaping from the formations that have that water as well, and into the atmosphere. That is the concern of the new study in th article I linked to.

People here can hold forth in all different kinds of opinion as to what’s happening with shale gas drilling, but ultimately it’s the reality of what’s going on that we must determine, and that we must heed, because nature will not give us a pass on the objective consequences of these techniques, just because we have a political disagreement with the credibliity of science that’s not sponsored by Koch Industries.

I think the smart thing to assume, after decades worth of American and world history is that there are some people willing to do stupid things, and things that damage other people’s interests, even their own community, if it allows them the gain they seek. Some people just think that way. Others simply learn helplessness, decide that nothing’s going to change, and as such, don’t change themselves, or push for change.

And some? Some just have a bone to pick with those who are talking about these risks, and they think that they’re in some sort of conspiracy to push some ulterior agenda.

But none of that matters to the basic physics and chemistry of what’s going on.

I think if we allow ourselves to acknowledge the problems where they do exists, we can engineer solutions or safeguards, or at the very least acknowledge that other alternatives might be best, and focus our resources on improving those.

But if we ignore the problems, they won’t go away, and we won’t be spared the consequences. We need to work actively in our own interests, not just defer to people and nature and hope for the best.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at June 9, 2011 8:19 AM
Comment #324235

Heard T. Boone yesterday relate that the only two heavy lifters were diesel and natural gas. He gave the cost relationship for equivalent energy content between natural gas and diesel as natural gas costing something over $3 and diesel costing $7 plus.

He doesn’t think the Saudi’s can sustain an increased production of crude. He believes oil prices will increase again this fall and will stay high therafter.

There are some areas where natural gas naturally enters the water aquafier, gas fumes through the water faucets, etc. But the fracking process is done way below the level of water aquaciers and there should be few problems with from the fracking process.

Due to ‘peak oil’ it would seem the decision to frack has already been made.

Posted by: Roy Ellis at June 9, 2011 10:07 AM
Comment #324236

Heard T. Boone yesterday relate that the only two heavy lifters were diesel and natural gas. He gave the cost relationship for equivalent energy content between natural gas and diesel as natural gas costing something over $3 and diesel costing $7 plus.

He doesn’t think the Saudi’s can sustain an increased production of crude. He believes oil prices will increase again this fall and will stay high therafter.

There are some areas where natural gas naturally enters the water aquafier, gas fumes through the water faucets, etc. But the fracking process is done way below the level of water aquaciers and there should be few problems with from the fracking process.

Due to ‘peak oil’ I think the decision to frack has already been made.

Posted by: Roy Ellis at June 9, 2011 10:51 AM
Comment #324237

Roy Ellis-
Which way does swamp gas go, when it moves through water?

The whole point of fracking is that you’re breaking up the rock that would otherwise prevent the movement of the natural gas in the rock formation. natural gas in water percolates up.

As for T. Boone Pickens? He’s making money off this process. Don’t forget to remind yourself of that fact. He’s selling you something, so you have to step back and check his claims.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at June 9, 2011 11:50 AM
Comment #324245


Profiteers always emphasize, even exaggerate the positive and deny and disparage the negative.

Fracking is a relative new process and we hear the advocates of the profiteers denying any and all possible negative aspects. They sound like tobacco company executives. No one knows what the negative aspects of fracking may be and we should take the effort to find out before we allow this on a large scale.

While I agree that natural gas can fill a vital role for the foreseeable future, IMO, this is a narrow minded debate by narrow minded people. The reason this debate is occurring is because we listened to the same debate for years about oil, while doing nothing.

Posted by: jlw at June 9, 2011 2:13 PM
Comment #324249

This all reminds me of the Rachel Maddow commercial with her standing in front of the Hoover Dam and wondering what we will leave the next generation. Could anyone imagine federal projects like the Hoover Dam or the TVA in today’s political environment? Nevemind a few NG well heads.

Posted by: George at June 9, 2011 2:53 PM
Comment #324250


Royal, can you think of a better use that solar energy for the large amounts of land in the desert South West.

It makes much more sense than cities like Las Vegas and Albuquerque.

Posted by: jlw at June 9, 2011 3:00 PM
Comment #324254

jlw asks; “Royal, can you think of a better use that solar energy for the large amounts of land in the desert South West.”

If one looks only at land use, probably not. I have recently traveled that area and have seen the large areas of wind generation and some solar arrays. I have also seen vast water tanks (ponds) filled with shrimp and very large vineyards. Creative folks have found numerous ways of using these lands.

Shrimp and grape production require only existing highways with which to move their product. Solar power generation however requires the building of transmission lines which entails many known and unknown problems, resistance and expenses.

I am not resisting either solar or wind power generation. But, as my original post indicated, some environmental groups are and for reasons so stated.

Posted by: Royal Flush at June 9, 2011 4:26 PM
Comment #324303

Rich

This is a fine statement: “Natural gas has great promise as a relatively clean and abundant fuel for the future. There are clearly threats to the environment from the drilling, i.e., water contamination, earthquakes, etc. Many of the most promising fields are in highly populated areas. It seems reasonable that national standards and monitoring systems should be developed to assure that the extraction is done with a reasonable level of safety. This is not the wild west. I think that the old Reagan line applies, trust but verify.”

The details will make a big difference. We have to balance what we will gain with the risks.

Stephen

Balance the risks. Depend on science and not anecdotes.

Re swamp gas – that is methane from decomposition. The process is different. Some natural gas, of course, escapes naturally. The natural world is not pristine. In some places it is downright hazardous and poisonous. We need to measure the additional effect that human activities have on making it better or worse.

Posted by: C&J at June 10, 2011 10:34 PM
Comment #324325


Royal, vineyards, shrimp farms, cities like Los Angeles and Albuquerque require something else, water, subsidized water.
So much water that the Colorado River no longer flows to the ocean and land subsidence due to removing ground water is increasing across the region where it is being done on a large scale. Whole communities built in the desert are sinking into the ground.

“Solar power generation however requires the building of transmission lines which entails many known and unknown problems, resistance and expense.”

Compared to what? Natural gas pipelines?

Many of the pipelines in this country, especially in the east, are over a hundred years old, leak like sieves and need to be replaced at great expense, with known and unknown problems and resistance.

Posted by: jlw at June 11, 2011 5:19 PM
Comment #324448

C&J-
Natural gas showing up in your drinking water is not anecdotal evidence. It’s empirical. The question is, of what?

It justifies further study, further investigation. It justifies, at the very least, the people who pump this fracking fluid down into the ground tell us what’s in it, so we can track any possible leaks.

I mean, really, what folks doing this fracking are doing is taking formerly impermeable rock layers, and cracking that rock layer. Now if you’ve ever seen any drawings of what an oil or gas well looks like, you always see the natural gas gathered up near the top, due to its natural bouyancy. Now, if that rock layer above it weren’t so difficult to get through, the oil and gas wouldn’t be there. It would be seeping up further, floating up over the brine and the groundwater.

What fracking does is break the layers that would keep that stuff from seeping up, so if we’re seeing empirical evidence of that seepage, we shouldn’t mess around. We should find out whether it’s escaping from the formation, and if so, we should find ways to deal with the various problems coming from that leakage.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at June 14, 2011 1:27 PM
Comment #324525

The fanatical environmentalists are always on the stupid side of illogical. Wind and solar are at best a 30% solution to clean energy. The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind does not always blow so you have to have at ready standby the full capacity, via nuclear, fossil fuels, etc., to take up the slack. Why is it that no one thinks about tidal or geothermal sources to generate clean energy? But that aside, fossil fuels are not that un-clean compared to Mother Nature. The single volcanic eruption in Greenland negated all of man’s atmosphere pollution efforts over the last 5 years and that was only 1 of about 200 volcanoes erupting around the world on essentially a continuous basis. This does not even take into account forest fires, decaying vegetation in forests and landfills, mammal (including a growing world human population) digestive processes, etc. The freaks are fighting a loosing battle because they are to narrow minded to look around and take a realistic assessment of the world they live in. Good luck!

Posted by: Realist at June 16, 2011 9:51 AM
Comment #324562


Realist, the reality is that solar energy alone has the potential to supply the human race with all of it’s electrical energy needs. Also, the reality is that the sun does shine all the time and if it were to cease shinning, we would be done.

Posted by: jlw at June 16, 2011 8:13 PM
Post a comment