We would be totally remiss if we did not present all sides to the debate we are now engaging – starting with a discussion of the most recent parry on the natural gas front.
It seems, as of an April 11 story in the New York Times, that natural gas, after about a decade of being hyped as a “clean” energy source (by both the industry and the treehuggers) is not as environmentally squeaky as it seems.
According to a study done by a couple of (wouldn’t you know it) professors, including ones who work at places like Cornell, natural gas production can produce a great many environmental problems – ones that could seriously challenge the effects of natural gas use (which in terms of usage, has about half the carbon footprint of coal and 30% less than petroleum).
The issue, it appears, is one that could in effect splinter a budding coalition of enviros and industry (for once). The controversy stems from the amount (and kind) of gases that are also released into the atmosphere during the drilling process. Staring with Methane, a heat-trapping gas far more “efficient” than CO2.
Here’s the rub. Uncontained Methane release on the industrial level, apparently then creates an impact as dirty as coal. We assume that the beancounters had no way of estimating the amount of “natural” Methane produced by the other large “polluter” in this area (cows) however the first results sound pretty daunting
The issue in particular starts with a fairly controversial practice to remove the gas, particularly from shale, called “fracking.” We are not familiar enough with the practice environmentally to have much say. However, we would suggest, given our experience with something that Americans outside of Gulf States and maybe Alaska have but few other Americans seem to be aware of, that there is a considerable “off-shore” gas drilling industry in this country as well as the North Atlantic. And there is no such thing as an entirely “safe” or “green” method of energy production and use – even today – from even “clean” sources. After all, hydro-electric power (for one) is known to be very environmentally destructive too even if there is no release of greenhouse gasses. There are also major problems right now we would argue, in the middle of a solar thermal plant in the desert. The cleantech movement has many environmental problems. We also note that Clean Energy Fuels, for one, the natural gas refueling company started by Pickens, does specialize in Methane collection too. Given this dual opportunity, we highly doubt that the modern gas wells at least, particularly the ones run by this company, would throw something away that represents a potential profit center.
There have been some dark hints by certain enviros that in fact the gas produced by “fracking” is actually a plot to extract cheap fuel for export and that indeed might very well be the dark “hidden” motives behind the cabal that is pushing this legislation. We see things a little differently. The reality is that in places like India (for example) where pollution is as much of an economic issue as it is here if not an environmental one (see the fascinating study of Delhi taxis and other vehicles we have attached to the site), there is no city today globally where environmental pollution of any kind is off the radar. While CNG has its place, we also know that just about everyone, even in CNG fuel using countries (like India) there will always be another (potentially cheaper) option. Starting with electric vehicles, which we are also a huge fan of, but having lived in England for quite some years, we also know that electric vehicles can’t be too heavy. The beloved milk carts still in use daily by the Brits (for one) have been electric since the 1960′s. They also have top speeds about about 15 mph.
We are going to take the position at this time that frankly any alternative to petroleum is something to be heralded. Given CNG’s obvious similarity and transferability to heavy vehicles (in particular) at a time when the jump in petroleum prices will most certainly doom the “Great Recession” to linger, not to mention gas’ reputation as one solution to America’s energy if not economic crisis (not the only one), we will keep an eye on future studies and developments. This study was the first of its kind, however it did address an issue of some concern in professional circles. Like any kind of energy, we suggest that high safety standards if not (we know, groans are in the audience) regulation to help contain the negative outputs of natural gas drilling. This of course includes significant regulation on water supplies and aquifer levels as well. We won’t engage in a policy discussion here about the privatization of water, but as we are fond of reminding people, Goldman Sachs (for one) thinks “water is the next oil.” It is no surprise then that Pickens, along with other (corporate) supporters of this bill, including apparently one of the largest landholders in the United States (Ted Turner) would also be looking to profit from water sales. We are not entirely uninvolved in that issue either and our stance at this time is that regulation works, it should be followed and that the growing global awareness about water rights as an issue will be, we think a very good moderating influence on those whose sole interest is in privatization rather than economic justice and quality issues.
As a childhood resident of Great Britain, where natural gas has always been a much higher profile energy source than the U.S. (and petroleum has always been far more expensive relative to incomes), the switch to natural gas for certainly heavier transportation as a “transition” fuel, if not heating and most certainly cooking, is one that is natural as breathing. Hopefully the effects of drilling, particularly in places like shale grounds, will not prove to be so environmentally damaging that natural gas cannot serve as a vital “intermediary” energy source if not serve as one of a patchwork of the alt fuel portfolio.
We think at this point at least that with the right inspection and regulation standards if not a push for new technological development to capture all the attendant gasses released during gas drilling and the proper treatment of “extraction water” will help improve if not standardize the production industry. Given this, we think at this time, that CNG in particular still remains a very viable and exciting “alt”.
Just the cost differential alone will make a huge dent in both economic stimulation as well as holding down the costs of other things that are heavily petroleum and transportation dependent, from the cost of food to the cost of government. In the space we hope opens up here with all those cost savings (and we’ll do an economic breakdown in another blog) that leaves lots of disposable income to invest in new technology.
Including, we presuppose, the redesign of the combustion engine to a far more sustainable if not efficient driver of transportation across the entire range of options now coming online.
- EPA Proposes New Rules on Emissions Released by Fracking (propublica.org)
- What the ‘F…’ Is Fracking? (blogher.com)
- Clean Energy Fuels: List of Natural Gas Stocks for Your Watchlist (dailyfinance.com)
- Doing the Founding Fathers Proud With Homespun Gasoline (beckermanpr.com)