Consultant: U.S. should tap gas resources |

Consultant: U.S. should tap gas resources

Dennis Webb
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Global factors threaten the future availability and affordability of natural gas in the United States, and it’s important to tap domestic reserves in places such as the Roan Plateau, an energy consultant said in Glenwood Springs Thursday.

The threat is of particular concern for low-income Americans, who aren’t represented in the current debate over where drilling should occur on public lands, said John Harpole, president of Littleton-based Mercator Energy, which helps energy producers to sell gas, and industrial companies to buy it.

“People are affected by this, and everyone who’s affected should have a voice in it,” Harpole told members of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Northwest Colorado Resource Advisory Council, which met at the Glenwood Springs Community Center.

Harpole fears the consequences of limiting gas drilling on public lands for environmental reasons.

“People, please don’t hamstring the drilling permits because you’re worried about this issue over here. Think about the global impact on the U.S.,” Harpole said.

Harpole pointed to a growing gap between U.S. natural gas production and consumption. So far, the United States has been able to look largely to Canada to fill that gap. But Harpole believes Canada will be less able to do that in future years, especially as it increasingly turns to its gas supply as an energy source for producing oil from its tar sands resources.

He said the expectation is that the United States instead will turn to liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments from elsewhere to instead meet its needs. But he considers that to be an unrealistic expectation.

Ninety-eight percent of the natural gas consumed in Japan, South Korea and China already consists of LNG, and they aren’t going to be outbid for that commodity by the United States, Harpole said. Countries such as Britain that have little ability to store natural gas underground also rely on LNG, he said.

The United States faces competition for dwindling gas supplies from all of Europe, Harpole said. European countries already are highly reliant on gas from Russia. Harpole predicted that by 2020, the Russian company Gazprom will supply almost 70 percent of natural gas to European Union nations.

He worries about what rising prices for natural gas will mean for Americans, especially lower-income ones.

“I’m living, I think, more and more in an unsecure world,” Harpole said.

Annual global gas consumption is expected to increase to more than 180 trillion cubic feet in 2030, up from 70 tcf in 1990, Harpole said.

“I think we need every energy resource out there,” he said.

He said the United States doesn’t have to fight for natural gas the way it has had to fight for oil.

“We need to develop what we have,” he said.

Of the remaining gas likely to be found in the United States, about 60 percent is expected to be found on public lands, Harpole said.

Clare Bastable is a Resource Advisory Council member and has helped lead the campaign to keep drilling rigs off the top of the Roan Plateau, northwest of Rifle. She said that while continued natural gas development is important, Harpole’s message seemed overly crisis-oriented. In fact, she said, the energy industry has a backlog of undeveloped gas leases on public lands.

“Putting more leases into backlog right now isn’t going to help us with cheap energy. It’s not a direct correlation,” she said.

She said she would like to see more attention given to the roles conservation and renewable sources can play in meeting the nation’s future energy needs.

The BLM has decided to allow gas drilling on the top of the Roan but has yet to begin leasing there.

“We recognize that we have a demand for affordable energy resources in the United States and that public lands can play a role in that,” said Jamie Connell, manager of the BLM’s Glenwood Springs Field Office.

But the BLM also must ensure that on the Roan and elsewhere, energy development occurs responsibly, to comply with federal laws aimed at protecting air, water and endangered species, Connell said.

“It’s going to be time-consuming, it’s going to be difficult and it’s going to take a lot of creativity,” she said.

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