Article overlooked drilling alternatives
Judith Kohler’s informative five-part AP series on Western natural-gas exploration, ending Dec. 24, would have been even more useful if it had discussed the drilling’s rationale and alternatives.
Each article started with an “EDITOR’s NOTE ” Soaring demand for natural gas?” In fact, after a decade’s rise, U.S. natural gas consumption has been flat or declining since 1996, even though prices didn’t start rising until 2000. Recent price spikes are likely to depress demand further.
The first article said Rocky Mountain gas is key “as long as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge … and offshore drilling are off-limits.” But those disputes are almost entirely about oil, not gas. ANWR is believed to contain no gas (and no economically recoverable oil either, so oil majors aren’t interested). North Slope gas is outside ANWR, abundant, well-known, available for development, but too costly.
The U.S. does have a slowly widening gas supply/demand imbalance. Its cheapest, fastest solution is not more supply but more efficient use ” a resource that now provides two-fifths of all America’s energy services and can do far more, quickly and profitably, with no sitting disputes.
For example, because very inefficient gas-fired combustion turbines meet peak electricity loads, shaving those loads by 5 percent would save 9.5 percent of total U.S. gas use, restoring moderate and stable prices for years. Such electric-load management would take a year or two to achieve, repay its cost in months, stabilize power markets, avoid costly new powerlines and save about $55 billion a year.
Other profitable savings in directly used gas, identified by five National Labs, would total 9 percent of projected gas use by 2010 and 17 percent by 2020, keeping pressure off supplies. In effect, they entail “drilling” in our factories and buildings rather than under our ranches and wildlands.
These cheap, fast, clean, uncontroversial and economically stimulative gas savings face two main obstacles: They’re not on the current federal agenda, and 48 states, including Colorado, reward gas and electric utilities for selling more energy, but penalize them for cutting customers’ bills.
Unfortunately the articles overlooked both those barriers and their proven remedies.
Amory B. Lovins
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