ADVERTISEMENT
  About the SA Blog Network













Plugged In

Plugged In


More than wires - exploring the connections between energy, environment, and our lives
Plugged In HomeAboutContact

Guest Post: Shale Gas – The Low Carbon Option?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


Email   PrintPrint



It may be surprising to hear that hydraulic fracturing is not the cause of water contamination, but what may be even more surprising is that shale gas produced using fracking may have lower life cycle greenhouse gas emissions than conventional gas.

According to a recent Environmental Science and Technology report, “shale gas life-cycle [greenhouse gas] emissions are 6% lower than conventional natural gas”

There are several reasons why shale gas could have lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but perhaps the most significant reason is that multiple horizontal wells (used when tapping shale gas) can be drilled from a single well pad. In conventional vertical drilling, there is one pad per well. In horizontal drilling, there are typically six to eight wells drilled from one pad. This means less equipment, less surface disruption, and fewer opportunities for leaks on the surface. As methane is a potent greenhouse gas, minimizing methane leaks is essential in reducing GHG emissions.

Shale gas is arguably one of the lowest carbon sources of natural gas, but all types of natural gas represent a huge opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Now, there are environmental challenges associated with developing natural gas. Methane leaks and water management are two of the biggest issues, and everything possible should be done to protect the environment. But, even with all the environmental concerns, natural gas, with fracking, is still a clear winner. Especially when compared to its primary alternative, and biggest competitor.

But what is the primary alternative to natural gas? People tend to associate natural gas with oil, and this is sometimes a mistake. While it is true that the production techniques of the two are similar (they are often produced together out of the same well), the production stage is where the similarities between oil and natural gas end. Natural gas is not a substitute for oil. They are used for different purposes. But, natural gas is a substitute for coal.

That’s right, because natural gas is primarily used for power generation, the alternative to drilling for natural gas is mining for coal. As such, producing more gas, including using techniques like fracking, can mean using less coal, which is a big win for the environment.

Let’s take China for example. If China builds one new coal plant per week, that translates to about 450 million tons of added carbon emissions each year1. If China just built natural gas plants instead of coal plants, they would reduce added emissions by between 150 and 270 million tons per year (depending on the type of coal and power plant, natural gas typically has between 30% and 60% less GHG emissions than coal). That reduction in emissions would be like taking roughly 40 million cars off the road. Since building a coal plant is a major capital investment, they are usually run for more than 50 years to recover the initial cost, so switching to natural gas in China would be like taking 40 million cars off the road for over 50 years!

Likewise, as about 50% of our power here in the United States comes from coal, we have the opportunity to make significant GHG reductions by switching to natural gas. Now, we know that natural gas emits less carbon dioxide per unit of energy, but it also emits significantly less pollutants of almost every other type. Let’s look at a few other numbers:

There are challenges associated with drilling for natural gas, but even with the challenges, natural gas is our best chance to immediately make meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas, mercury, sulfur and other emissions. So we have a choice to make: Should we jump on the Gasland bandwagon, ban fracking, and continue to rely on coal? Or should we safely develop natural gas, replace coal and make meaningful carbon reductions? I vote for the environment, so I vote for gas.

Photo Credit:

1. Photo of natural gas rig in Shreveport, Louisiana by danielfoster437 and used under this Creative Commons License.

2. Photo of coal mine by ulrichkarljoho and used under this Creative Commons License.

Footnote:

1. 1 GW coal plant x 2lb CO2/kwh x 1,000,000 kwh/gwh x 8,760 hrs/year x 52 new plants per year

About the author:

Scott McNally has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas. He has worked as an Environmental Engineer for Valero Energy Corporation, a Project Engineer for Shell Oil Company, and an energy and climate research intern for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. This is Scott’s third guest blog post at Plugged In – he was invited to be a guest blogger by Plugged In’s Melissa C. Lott. You can reach Scott via e-mail at scottmcnally at gmail dot com.

About the Author: Plugged In Guest Author - An energy research engineer who has worked in oil and gas, environmental engineering, renewable energy, and energy and environmental policy for the Obama Administration.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





Rights & Permissions

Comments 22 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. MoEnergySci 11:18 am 01/27/2012

    Appreciate the comparison of natural gas (shale) vs conventional vs coal. Very interesting. Wish the study didn’t require a subscription to read. But, we do have other options available that are much less carbon intensive than any form of fossil fuel power plant (for example, nuclear and renewables). Now, there are certainly benefits with respect to natural gas vs. those alternatives. But, natural gas doesn’t “win” against the whole field.

    I have a question regarding the data from the EIA presented above – from what I can tell, it looks like these numbers are in terms of pounds per unit of heat produced in the combustion process. How does this related to pounds per unit of electricity sent out of the power plant? The conventional wisdom is that natural gas sits at about 1/2 the CO2 per unit of electricity compared to coal. But, with idling (underutilized power plants), does this number hold true?

    Thanks for putting together this post, Scott (and the previous one, which I also enjoyed reading).

    Link to this
  2. 2. hughrobertmac 11:45 am 01/27/2012

    Scott,

    Thank you for highlighting this study out of Argonne. I will try to obtain a copy, and am curious how it differs in approach from that of Tom Wigley and others.

    I would also be curious how you see your post holding up to Joe Romm’s take on this issue:

    http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2012/01/24/407765/natural-gas-is-a-bridge-to-nowhere-price-for-global-warming-pollution/

    Your readers may share my puzzlement over your logic in the following statement:

    “In conventional vertical drilling, there is one pad per well. In horizontal drilling, there are typically six to eight wells drilled from one pad. This means less equipment, less surface disruption, and fewer opportunities for leaks on the surface.”

    First, each of the six to eight wells is far deeper and longer, including the horizontal length of shale wells.

    Second, shale development well pads are much larger than conventional well pads.

    Third, the amount equipment is not a function of the number of well pads, it is a function of the number of wells, the lengths of these wells, and the energy demanded by pumped much higher volumes of fracking fluid at much higher pressures.

    Fourth, with much more fracking wastewater generated for each shale well, compared to a single conventional well, there are not fewer opportunities for leaks, there is simply an increased likelihood of leaks at each site, not to mention increased likelihood of leaks and spills due to traffic accidents while hauling this waste or due to illegal dumping of this waste.

    Surely the Env Sci & Tech study did not make such a spurious argument. It is troubling to see Scientific American publish this argument.

    Link to this
  3. 3. mk1313 2:07 pm 01/27/2012

    Let’s see, a guy working for Valero Energy Corporation and Shell Oil Company stating that fracking doesn’t cause contamination. That’s like BP saying it’s oil hasn’t killed off the gulf coast fishery. Credability is lacking entirely here! As for natural gas being a “low” emmitter of CO2 etc that’s only relative to the worst emmitter out there. It’s like saying an SUV is fuel efficient by comparing it to a hummer or an 18 wheeler. Bah. What can you expect of someone with their head stuck in the fossile fuel gravy train!

    Link to this
  4. 4. scottmcnally 4:33 pm 01/27/2012

    Hello everyone. Thanks for your comments.
    Hughrobertmac – Perhaps I should have clarified. The leaks to which I am referring are fugitive methane emission leaks (FUGEMS) on the surface. I covered underground leaks my last post. FUGEMS occur most frequently on flanges, seals, valves, pumps, pretty much all types of surface equipment connections. If you reduce the amount of topside equipment by 6-8 times, you will reduce the opportunities for methane to leak.
    You can’t say that shale gas well pads are bigger or smaller than conventional well pads. There is a range of sizes in both applications, and depends on a bunch of different factors. Do you have a source for this? In fact, I would argue the opposite. Conventional gas comes from oil wells, which tend to be bigger than gas wells.
    On your third point, you are right, sort of. Underground equipment (lengths of pipe, drilling mud, submersible pumps etc) are a function of number of wells, but topside equipment (separators, tanks, gathering lines, evaporation ponds etc) is a function of number of well pads. Again, I am talking to surface fugitive methane leaks in this article.
    MK1313 – You’re right, credibility is important. What my bio doesn’t say is that I quit Shell to come work at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. I am not on the payroll of any oil company. I also developed renewable energy projects and researched clean energy and carbon capture at Austin Energy and the University of Texas. Climate change is a huge problem, and it is caused by people using so much fossil fuels. I believe very strongly that we need to use less. I wish I could convince the American public to do so. By the way, before I started researching energy, I drove an SUV. Now I drive a motorcycle, and I get 60 mpg, and I walk/bike and take public transit whenever possible. What do you drive?
    MoEnergySci – Thanks for your questions and comments here and on previous posts. Seems I can always count on you for good substantive questions.
    I researched energy tradeoffs for about a year, and the cheapest, easiest, most cost effective things to do to reduce carbon emissions for power generation are in this order:
    1. Energy Efficiency – about 20 times cheaper than any other technology
    2. Conservation
    3. Wind/certain types of solar/Natural gas/mixed bag of rare things like landfill gas (very small scale) are all about equal here. Because NG can replace huge quantities of coal emissions for relatively little money, it makes them attractive. Although, there is a theory out there that NG competes with renewables, and may prevent their growth. There may be some merit to this. I will look into it.
    4. Nuclear/Solar PV – lower than the others because it is so expensive.
    5. Conventional fossil fuels
    As for your other question, to replace coal – a continuous, baseload power source- you would build a combined cycle gas plant that runs continuously. These are very different, and much more efficient, than both simple cycle NG peaking plants, and coal. The gas plants that replace coal would idle infrequently.
    Good questions, thanks again.

    Link to this
  5. 5. dwbd 9:35 pm 01/27/2012

    Scott claims: “…because natural gas is primarily used for power generation…”

    No it ain’t. Only 30% of NG in the USA is used for power generation.

    Scott claims: “…As such, producing more gas, including using techniques like fracking, can mean using less coal, which is a big win for the environment…”

    That’s your Vested Interest opinion. Much more objective research:

    Lot’s of evidence and several studies show Shale Gas is worse than Coal for GHG emissions, and much worse than Nuclear for Radiation emissions.

    “…GHG footprint for shale gas is at least 20% greater than and perhaps more than twice as great as that for coal…”

    http://www.sustainablefuture.cornell.edu/news/attachments/Howarth-EtAl-2011.pdf

    “…the existing U.S. gas fleet emissions exceed the existing U.S. coal fleet emissions by 9% to 27%…”

    “…Regardless of which GWP is used, coal likely has a lower greenhouse gas impact than shale gas out to 30-40 years for the existing fleet, and 40-50 years comparing the most efficient technologies for coal- and gas-fired generation…”

    http://www.postcarbon.org/reports/PCI-Hughes-NETL-Cornell-Comparison.pdf

    “…Possibly more troubling are the emissions of fine particulates from gas-fired power plants. Though particulate emissions are about ten per cent of those produced by coal power, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 77 per cent of particulates from natural gas plants are dangerously small. These fine particulates have the greatest impact on human health because they by-pass our bodies’ natural respiratory filters and end up deep in the lungs. In fact, many studies have found no safe limit for exposure to these substances…”

    http://www.davidsuzuki.org/issues/climate-change/science/energy/natural-gas/

    An excellent video showing the toxic emissions and hype of Shale Gas:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYzU4bEfJ5U

    If Shale gas had to meet the same regulations that the NRC imposes on Nuclear it would be immediately Shutdown and not a chance of reopening without at least 10 years of analysis and environmental hearings.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=marcellus-shale-natural-gas-drilling-radioactive-wastewater

    http://evergreennuclear.blogspot.com/2011/08/natural-radioactive-material-from-oil.html

    http://theenergycollective.com/david-lewis/47794/gas-bridge-nowhere

    Link to this
  6. 6. dwbd 9:57 pm 01/27/2012

    Scott claims: “…we have the opportunity to make significant GHG reductions by switching to natural gas…”

    No we don’t. We don’t have enough Natural Gas, even it was true that it does reduce GHG emissions – which it doesn’t. The logical use of NG is to make Methanol for transportation fuel and replace imported Oil. That makes sense. Replacing domestic Coal, which it can’t, not even close, is just a sham.

    Scott claims: “…Energy Efficiency – about 20 times cheaper than any other technology…”

    That’s nonsense. Show us your data. If it was 20x cheaper everyone would be doing it and they wouldn’t need any subsidies or encouragement. I’ve done a fair bit to my home, and it has reduced fuel & electricity consumption, without ANY gov’t assistance, but 20X come on. The simple fact is Energy Efficiency won’t even stop the GROWTH in energy consumption for developed nations, and have nil effect in developing nations.

    Scott claims:”…NG can replace huge quantities of coal emissions for relatively little money, it makes them attractive…”

    Scott claims: “…Nuclear/Solar PV – lower than the others because it is so expensive…”

    Wrong. Levelized cost of Nuclear is less than NG. And unlike NG, Nuclear can supply not only all of the USA electricity supply, but all the USA Energy Supply and All the World’s Energy Supply. NG cannot even come remotely close to doing that. NG is therefore a NON-SOLUTION.

    That is absolute BS. NG power plants, plus NG infrastructure may be 1/2 the cost of modern Coal Power plants but the fuel cost is at least double that of Coal, and that would rise precipitously if NG were to start replacing much Coal generation.

    Scott Claims: “…NG competes with renewables, and may prevent their growth…”

    No it doesn’t. NG and the new renewables are partners. The main reason all this wind is being installed is to VASTLY INCREASE NG consumption. And cycling inefficiencies induced in the shadowing NG power supply mean Wind/NG uses just as much fuel as just plain (and much cheaper) NG alone. In view if this fact it’s amazing that NG gets a total exemption under the clean water act and is virtually devoid of regulatory oversight, whereas Nuclear can’t spill one banana dose of tritium on site without the NRC breathing down their neck. NG releases >100x the radiation to the environment than Nuclear ever dreamed of, including Fukushima. No regulation needed for that though.

    Link to this
  7. 7. bsebadger 10:14 pm 01/27/2012

    Hi Scott,
    Thank you for the informative article. I was wondering if you came across the study by Howarth et al in Climatic Change in April 2011. This was one of the earliest peer- reviewed literature to analyze the footprint of shale gas, and their calculations indicate that the footprint for shale gas drilling exceeds conventional gas and even oil drilling over a 20 year period. It becomes comparable only over a 100 year period. They attribute this to the venting and emission of methane during drilling, and from the flowback water, and methane, being a higher potency GHG, contributes more to carbon emissions than the others. They took into account anywhere from 3.5 to ~8% of the methane produced over the shale gas well’s lifetime to be lost during venting.
    Now, the authors do acknowledge that their research is by no means definitive, and is intended to promote further research in this area. But is there any particular reason that you haven’t included this research in your discussion? Do any of your sources contradict this study or even disprove it?

    Link to this
  8. 8. sethdiyal 1:36 pm 01/28/2012

    Another Big Oil paid infomercial here at one their favorite outlets Sciam.

    McNally should be ashamed of himself but these types never are. Pretty well everything he wrote can be debunked in a two minute google search.

    Note in McNally’s reply to hughrobertmac he carefully avoided reference to Joe Romm’s excellent and surprising debunking of the gas myth. In fact peer reviewed studies published in reputable journal shows that gas with all its methane leaks is actually worse than coal. McNally like all his kind prefers junk science.

    What Big Oil and its shills when extolling the virtues of cheap domestic gas now at $3 mcf, never mention, is that that gas is only a $2 mcf LNG ride to a $15 mcf world market. Dispute investment paybacks under 18 months and rates of return on LNG investment approaching 75% per annum, Big Oil here is openly dumping gas in an effort to ensure that all new and coal replacement power is gas and not nuclear. Big Oil is using Australia which has banned nuclear power to supply world markets with massive LNG investments.

    Link to this
  9. 9. scottmcnally 1:43 pm 01/29/2012

    Sorry for the delay in this response, hope you all had a nice weekend.

    Dwbw – Who is saying we don’t have enough natural gas? WITH shale gas, we have enough domestically for decades, maybe a century or more. Without shale gas, we don’t. How do you figure that natural gas cannot replace coal? It is already doing that.. Converting natural gas to methanol introduces another mode of efficiency loss, but it may have some merit. I will check into this.
    Efficiency is a tricky one. I have compiled a huge database of over 500 studies on energy, I will think about the best way to present this information, but efficiency is the clear winner. Look at Austin Energy, for example. They have implemented efficiency measures that has negated the need for building two 700 MW coal plants. Significant. Cheap. The reason efficiency is tricky, is because private electricity providers are incentivized to sell as much electricity as possible, so they don’t want their customers to be efficient, because they would buy less energy.
    You seem to like Nuclear. I agree with you, I like it too. I like it better than natural gas. But, it is so difficult to build a nuc plant because of cost overruns and permitting/political issues. Therefore, nobody is building any. I think we should though. But, how do you figure that nuc/solar PV has a lower levelized cost than natural gas? What are your sources?

    Bsebadger – You are right, there are studies out there that say shale gas has higher lifecycle emissions. This study is one among many, and the conclusions will largely be based on where you draw your system boundaries of the lifecycle assessment. It is hard to know what the right answer is. Part of the motivation for this article was to highlight the fact that shale gas can have lower emissions. It doesn’t always.

    Sethdiyal – tell me, what is my type? I am an environmentalist that formerly worked for an oil company. I left the oil industry to go work for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. I am now semi-retired, and I spend most of my time traveling, volunteering, and writing about science. I am not on anybody’s payroll, and I have no obligations to anyone.
    Joe Romm is not the arbiter of truth. It is one study among many. I have compiled a database of over 500 energy studies, and I have a pretty good grip on what the larger scientific community believes.

    Link to this
  10. 10. dwbd 9:18 pm 01/29/2012

    I will try to reply to you, Scott, but this blog is renowned for its propensity to censor contrary comments. Honesty & Integrity are apparently not standards that this blog holds highly.

    The following excellent video by Deborah Rogers gives an excellent description as to why Shale Gas is mostly hype and CANNOT significantly replace Coal. 15% is already imported and Canada does not have enough supply for its rapidly expanding NG gobbling Tar Sands.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYzU4bEfJ5U

    The NY Times has published a lot on the phony hype of Shale Gas:

    http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/us/natural-gas-drilling-down-documents-4-intro.html?ref=us

    “…Shale Gas Called a “Ponzi Scheme” …”

    “…Where is the S.E.C.?…”

    “…This e-mail exchange is between a geologist in Texas and a petroleum geologist who spent about a decade and a half at Phillips Petroleum Company. They discuss whether the hype about shale gas is giving a false sense of security with regard to energy policy…the way that Wall Street investment is feeding the shale gas hype is reminiscent of Enron…”

    Industry Doubts on Shale Gas Economics:

    “World’s Largest Uneconomic Field”

    “A Herd Mentality” on Shale Gas”

    “Shale Gas Inherently Unprofitable, Official Says”

    “Shale Wells Not Economic, Chesapeake Geologist Says”

    “Media Is Ignoring Costs, Investment Analyst Says”

    “Financial Hype on Shale Gas Is Difficult to Understand”

    “Drill Fast, Con Wall Street “Always a Greater Sucker…”

    For those who think we will have enough conventional NG & Shale Gas to supply our growing process & building heat applications and Renewables/NG power production check these articles out:

    http://www.roperld.com/science/minerals/shalegas.htm

    ourfiniteworld.com/2011/02/07/dont-count-on-natural-gas-to-solve-us-energy-problems/

    atomicinsights.com/2010/09/shale-gas-is-not-a-game-changer-it-is-simply-another-period-in-a-long-running-game.html

    The most logical expanded use of NG is Methanol which costs 3.2 cents per liter for conversion cost, and is a replacement for imported, job-killing, terrorist funding oil. This is being done in China, mostly Coal-to-Methanol. The energy loss is similar to conversion to LNG, except Methanol is trivial to store indefinitely and transport unlike LNG, and Methanol engines are the most efficient known, more efficient than diesels.

    Link to this
  11. 11. idiotprogrammer 10:49 pm 01/29/2012

    1. Howarth actually has a follow up study “Venting and Leaking of Methane from Shale Gas Development” to be published soon in the journal Climatic Change. http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=106531 “Shale gas production results in 40 to 60 percent more global warming emissions than conventional gas…Shale gas also has a larger greenhouse gas footprint than oil or coal over the short term.”

    2. From the same article above, the NCAR study says: “Even if leaks are one to two percent, far less than the Howarth estimates, it would only be slightly better than continuing to burn coal.”

    3. The Post Carbon Institute report “Will Natural Gas fuel America in the 21st century) http://www.postcarbon.org/report/331901-will-natural-gas-fuel-america-in suggests that simply from a perspective of energy intensity, a new coal plant with scrubbers provides more bang for the buck with less pounds CO2/Kwh. See especially the chart on page 36.

    4. I suspect that your comparison table between coal and natural gas doesn’t differentiate between old coal plants and a top of the line coal plants.

    5. Finally one thing about Romm’s position which I find appealing is carbon pricing + natural gas together. If you simply replace coal with something which might be worse for the atmosphere, how is that progress? At least, with carbon pricing, we have market signals to guide us away from fossil fuels.

    6. If we were investing in long term energy infrastructure, why not invest in more forward-thinking ideas like the Unified Smart grid which makes it easier to put wind and solar generating plants online?

    Link to this
  12. 12. idiotprogrammer 10:57 pm 01/29/2012

    One more thing, Scott, wasn’t Austin Energy still near the top of municipal emitters of CO2?

    Fun fact about Texas. Electric power plants in Texas (population 25 million) emit more CO2 than electric power plants in California, New York, Florida, Massachusetts and Oregon combined (population 86 million)
    http://www.eia.gov/state/state-energy-rankings.cfm?keyid=86&orderid=1 Out of the 36 Megawatts for Texas in 2009, 21 Megawatts came from Natural Gas and Petroleum. http://www.imaginaryplanet.net/weblogs/idiotprogrammer/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/texas-net-generation_thumb.png I hardly think that the Texas fuel mix for power plants should serve as the model for the nation; in fact, it is scandalous. (BTW, I am a Texan).

    Link to this
  13. 13. idiotprogrammer 5:47 am 01/30/2012

    About the NCAR study which I mentioned. It doesn’t mean that coal is cleaner, but that the aerosol emissions from coal already have a cooling effect which natural gas will counteract. This isn’t an argument per se for rejecting natural gas, but it should make us wonder whether natural gas is crowding out energy dollars from being invested in technologies which have zero emissions on sulfate aerosols as well as GHGs. If we start building gas plants, they will be used for baseload, and keep renewable plants from being built.

    Link to this
  14. 14. hughrobertmac 1:38 pm 01/30/2012

    FUGEMS?! What an appropriate acronym given your post!

    Here is a reasonable discussion re well-pad size:
    http://www.museumoftheearth.org/files/marcellus/Marcellus_issue6.pdf
    See table 1 — shale gas well pads typically over twice as large are conventional well pads.

    Also, the NYSDEC RDSGEIS explicitly states that shale gas well pads are larger. It ads that fewer would be needed if just vertical drilling were done, but this is not relevant to the argument you are making.

    I still don’t follow your logic. Are you arguing that, despite their being longer wells, greater hydraulic pressures, and more wastewater per well from shale gas development, there is nevertheless the same amount of topside equipment for one conventional well as there is for 6-8 shale wells? I doubt it.

    Is this argument in the ES&T paper, or did you get it from somewhere else? I’m curious to know the basis of this claim.

    Re Joe Romm, of course he is not the final arbiter of truth. I simply asked you how you might reconcile your post with his on the same topic.

    Link to this
  15. 15. hughrobertmac 1:38 pm 01/30/2012

    See 5-10 and 5-11 in the NYSDEC RDSGEIS.

    Link to this
  16. 16. Melissa Lott 11:29 pm 01/30/2012

    @dwbd – In response to your comment above at 918pm, where you stated that:

    “I will try to reply to you, Scott, but this blog is renowned for its propensity to censor contrary comments. Honesty & Integrity are apparently not standards that this blog holds highly.”

    I appreciate the ability for Scientific American readers to comment on our blog posts here at Plugged In. The (at times) lively discussions add to a growing dialogue surrounding topics that are important for society to grapple with. I am glad to have a diversity of thought in the discussion.

    Regarding your comment – At no point have I (or, to my knowledge, any of Plugged In’s writers) censored comments submitted to this blog, outside of obvious spam*. If you believe that any of your comments have been censored, I would ask that you provide any pertinent information that you have to me via e-mail (melissalott at gmail dot com) or via an alternate avenue so that I can investigate.

    *Obvious spam is practically defined (in this case) as comments that are ads for products unrelated to the blog’s subject matter.

    Link to this
  17. 17. scottmcnally 1:31 pm 01/31/2012

    Dwbw – You are right, the ranking of end use by consumption for natural gas is as follows:
    1. Electric power (33%)
    2. Industrial (30%)
    3. Residential (22%)
    4. Commercial (14%)
    5. Vehicle fuel (1%)
    I misspoke, when I said, “natural gas is primarily used for power gen” what I should have said is power is the biggest user.
    Regardless, the point remains that if we don’t use gas, we will use more coal. Lets break it down by end use: Electric power – hopefully this is obvious by now. Industrial – the vast majority of industrial boilers are either coal, natural gas, or oil fired boilers. If you don’t use natural gas, you will use either more oil, or more coal, both of which have higher emissions of all types. Residential/commercial – if you don’t use gas for heating/cooking etc, the only other option (on a large scale), is electricity, which is 50% coal, 25% gas, 25% other (cleaner) sources, so that also increases coal consumptions. Additionally, direct use of natural gas for heating/cooking is roughly twice as efficient as using electricity.
    Would you please tell me what my “Vested Interest” option is? I already told you I don’t work for the oil industry.
    The studies done by Howarth and Hughes at Cornell are not necessarily representative of the greater scientific community, in fact, there is dissention among groups at Cornell over natural gas. Additionally, it is one or two studies among many. So is the one I presented.
    Sure, there are problems with natural gas, but no matter how you approach it, it is better than coal, and is the only large scale substitute for coal.
    By the way, if you would like to take this offline, please feel free to email me.
    The New York Times article was highly misleading, and lambasted by most economists that I know, even left wing economists in the government that are anti-natural gas. Many investments were made in natural gas in 2008, when the price was $12/mscf. Then, natural gas and oil prices de-linked, and gas prices went down to about $4/mscf. Even in that range, most shale gas is still economically viable (rule of thumb is $3-$6). The forecast for gas prices is to gradually go up over a number of years, and since these projects are highly capital intensive, the long term cost recovery is more important than the spot price. Either way, yes, some percentage of shale gas projects are no longer economically viable at the lower price, so some people will have lost some money on the projects. This is a huge industry, and billions of emails have been sent and received on the topic. I have no doubts in your, or anybody else’s ability to pluck the worst ones and put them on display. This is exactly what happened with climategate. It doesn’t mean that global warming, or natural gas, is a hoax.
    On methanol, if it is so logical, why aren’t we doing it?
    Idiotprogrammer – I support carbon tax/pricing, and then the market can work itself out. Austin Energy may have been one of the highest municipal emitters of CO2, but most municipalities don’t operate 7 power plants. AE provides power for something like 1.2 million people, and is the sterling exemplar of what power production should be. On a good night, Austin is 30% powered by wind. AE has a coal plant and part of a nuc plant, but gets more energy from wind than either of those two. They have also implemented efficiency measures to reduce demand by 1,000 MW. They are building a 100 MW biomass plant, and a 30 MW solar plant. Their goal is 35% renewables by 2020. The generation mix in Texas should not be a model for the nation, but the generation mix in Austin should.
    I’ll have a post coming out on Keystone XL in the next couple days, I’m looking forward to everybody’s comments on that one too.

    Link to this
  18. 18. tedre123 7:09 am 07/6/2012

    You know that you don’t have to use coal. What happened to the alternatives like solar, wind or even nuclear? All you have to do is make fracking subject to the Clean Water Act, charge the companies for the costs of cleaning up, charge for air pollution etc, and all of a sudden cleaner alternatives will be cost effective.

    Link to this
  19. 19. tedre123 7:19 am 07/6/2012

    “hydraulic fracturing is not the cause of water contamination,” but drilling is? This does not make me feel any easier about fracking, drilling, grabbing the gas, or whatever else you’d like to call the process.

    Link to this
  20. 20. Quinn the Eskimo 4:34 pm 07/7/2012

    So, how about the dead cattle? Lighting the sink water? Exploding wells?

    Yup! You got me convinced. Especially where there’s money to be made by the greedy corporations.

    Vote Romney.

    Link to this
  21. 21. workkevinw 12:25 am 01/1/2013

    We are at a useless war because of the protection of certain peoples oil firlds… Who owns them? check these people out,… Henry Kravis ect…
    Speaking of which,… Who just bought a company in Japan under deception after the tsunami and put 500 workers out of work? hmmm, Henry Kravis? bingo! good friend of Bilderbergs…
    Why are we talking of shale and oil when we know how to do better? Because it makes no money for the oil people!!! the ones that stiffle progress!
    Seen You Tube and Afghanistan or Iraq? Go to an outside source on the web! Google Japan ect… The world hates us! We are killing innocents by drones in Afghanistan,(You Tube), and our children dying in the process or crippled,(my own included), protecting, and in the name of, what?
    These people dont even have phones to communicate with! How are they united? Iraq was shocked at the downing of the towers. they fought because we blew up 14 of thier sacred mosque domes,(the portal for thier souls), in one day! wouldnt you be miffed?
    Speaking of Japan,…. Yeah, heard anything? Nobody wants you to. they were left to die!The very next day! Check the HUB. its the company that owns our communication network. Check Henry’s involvement there as well as with Homeland Sec. Human Services Worldwide, Cisco,(everybody’s secure network), and contributions to both sides on the political scene to United States, Spain, Mexico…
    So pardon if I cannot sympathise with this blog. Its ridiculous and wastefull expenditure of energy!

    Link to this
  22. 22. MattJohnson 12:45 am 09/18/2014

    Thank you Scott for the interesting article on the benefits of using shale gas over coal and conventional oil. Although I agree that natural gas may be a better and more eco-friendly energy choice than oil and coal, natural gas still emits large amounts of CO2, as well as methane, into the atmosphere. Also, “fracking” is associated with many significant environmental risks, including earthquakes, and water pollution.

    Therefore, gas processing companies need to be constantly innovating, developing new technologies that improve processing efficiency and safety, as well as ensuring production is always at its peak. One company that I believe can do this is GTC Tech, because it is a global licensor of process technologies. For more information on the company, one can go to http://www.gtctech.com.

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Scientific American Holiday Sale

Black Friday/Cyber Monday Blow-Out Sale

Enter code:
HOLIDAY 2014
at checkout

Get 20% off now! >

X

Email this Article

X