Can natural gas be an alternative to coal ?

BP_stats_review_2009_review_natural_gasI read in The Daily Green an article on how natural gas could be a solution to environmental and energy issues in the United States as it emits half the carbon dioxide of coal and roughly 25 percent less than oil.

Another advantage of this fossil fuel is that there are ample reserves in America : 6.73 trillion cubic meters of proved reserves according to the BP Statistical review 2009.

With around 60 years of reserves at current rates of production I believe natural gas can be a sound temporary alternative to coal while renewables and efficiency solutions develop.

Here are some extracts of the original article :

John Podesta, head of the Anti-Heritage Foundation, also known as the Center for American Progress, had many nice things to say about natural gas at Harry Reid’s energy bash in Las Vegas the other day.

So did Harry Reid himself, who announced that he’s now a congregant at T. Boone Pickens’ church of natural gas.

Even Al Gore, the scourge of all things carbon, allowed that natural gas is welcome in his world.

Meanwhile, there’s an affray brewing among the the fossil fuel band of brothers. The gas guys are differentiating themselves in the market. They’re taking out ads that, in so many words, say that coal is an environmental problem. Oil is a geopolitical problem. Gas helps solve both. It’s clean and 100 percent American. So there.

What gives? A basic rule of politics is that there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests. The gas game has shifted in the past few years. That has changed the politics of energy. Gas is no longer the polite little brother of oil and coal. Now, the gas industry has something to gain by giving oil and coal the raspberry. Enviros and their political allies have perked up with interest. That might help shift the energy debate in a positive direction.

(…) Podesta said that shale gas is a potential game-changer. In a paper released in time for the energy summit, he and former Colorado Senator Tim Wirth pointed out that gas could serve as a backup power source that would give utilities a deeper comfort level with integrating lots more intermittent wind and solar energy into their systems.

A little-known fact that the paper included is that a significant amount of the gas-fired electricity generating capacity in the U.S. sits idle much of the time for cost reasons. To cut greenhouse gas emissions without investing a lot in new power plants, Podesta/Wirth wrote, back down coal and fire up the underutilized gas plants.

To make it work, the paper suggests, use carbon prices to push gas ahead of coal in the order of “dispatch,” utility-speak for determining which plants will be used at any given time to meet load.

Like any other energy resource, however, gas is not free of issues. Producing deep shale gas requires “hydro-fracking” — sending lots of chemicals down the borehole to loosen up the formation and persuade the gas molecules to head for the surface.

(…) Advice from this corner is to make haste slowly. The promise of gas is real, but Harry Reid’s epiphany notwithstanding, there are no miracle prescriptions for shifting America’s energy economy to one with more security and less carbon. Diversification is critical. We need many baskets to hold our energy eggs, not just a few.

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