Natural Gas and Energy Independance

Originally posted January 24, 2013 at phfieldnotes.blogspot.com.

On Monday, Jeff Rubin of The Globe and Mail asked the question, “Is there water enough for U.S. to frack its way to energy independence?”

I can’t consider the water footprint of energy independence without considering the folly in the notion of “energy independence”. First, the US consumes far more oil per day than we produce (15 million barrel (MB) versus 6 MB, respectively). At our historical peak output in the 1970s, US daily oil production was <12 MB. New finds (i.e., including oil associated with “unconventional” production methods) amount to ~0.5MB/day with no robust sense of how long such production rates can be sustained.

Second, there is a disconnect between terms such as resources, reserves, and supply; actual supply is the only meaningful parameter and domestic supply is, as indicated in first point, woefully short of consumption. Moreover, there is incontrovertible historical evidence that GDP growth requires growth in oil consumption.

Third, there is a massive cost associated with transforming our economy and culture from liquid transportation fuel (read: oil-based) to anything else. Changing US oil infrastructure necessitates transforming a $100T (trillion) industry with a 150 year history. Despite whatever short-term run-ups in natural gas (NG) production that are occurring due to unconventional sources (read: shale), there is no realistic probability that our economy can shift from oil to NG. There are spot plans to shift some electricity generation from coal to NG based on combination of NG pricing and disincentives of government regulation (i.e., curb air pollution), but such shifts will not result in net difference to energy independence since we do not import coal.

Fourth, oil, NG, and coal dominate (~60-65%) our energy consumption mix with nuclear providing another 10-12%. There is no meaningful way I can envision in which something else (wind, solar, hydro, biofuel) displaces our traditional energy mix, let alone something like NG nudging oil from its pre-eminent hold.

There’s no question that water is intrinsically tied to our energy portfolio and as energy supplies become tighter, more pressure will be brought on water and other “environmental” resources. But I think it’s disingenuous to pit water/environment versus energy. The reality is interdependence.

James Shallenberger, P.G.
Senior Geologist/Ecologist

James is also the author of, “The Marcellus Shale: Balancing Energy and Environmental Resource Interests.”

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