“Dash to Gas” Makes Neither Economic Nor Environmental Sense

Energy Facts Weekly: By Frank Clemente, Ph.D., Penn State University

The Economy   The Environment
“The results for electricity from natural gas strengthened this conclusion: [gas] can be one of the lowest cost — or one of the highest cost — sources of electricity … over the 30-year lifespan of an NGCC plant, the price of natural gas would be likely to rise, the year-to-year variations could also be large.” National Research Council, 2009 Double Arrow
“Total greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas from hydraulic fracturing may, therefore, be equivalent to 33 g C of CO2 per million joules of energy…. total emissions from coal would be equivalent to 31.9 g C of CO2 per million joules of energy, or very slightly less than the estimate for the natural gas.” Dr. Robert Howarth, Atkinson Professor of Ecology & Environmental Biology, Cornell University, 2010
  • “… the President’s goal (is) to reduce emissions 83% by 2050.”   The White House
  • “Gas doesn’t get us there.”  Dave Hamilton, Director for Global Warming, Sierra Club, referring to the goal of an 80% drop in emissions on CNN News
In 1998, the American Gas Association predicted U. S. production would exceed 25 TCF in 2010. The DOE now estimates that this year’s production will only be 20 TCF — a difference of three Oklahomas. This supply shortfall has not only led to significantly higher natural gas prices, but also to extreme volatility of those prices. From 2000-2009, the price of natural gas to produce electricity ranged from $3.56 to $12.04 per million Btu.

More Natural Gas Generation Leads To Higher Electricity Prices
“Since 1997, there have been five natural gas price spikes…. These price spikes have significantly contributed to the U.S. manufacturing sector losing over 3.7 million jobs.”   Edward Stones, representing Dow Chemical Co. in testimony before the U.S. Senate, 2009
Now, as a new decade begins, the unfounded exuberance that characterized the natural gas industry a decade ago still prevails and threatens to take a heavy toll not only on our ability to revive economic growth but also to maintain reliable electric power as well.  And, this time, there will not be enough coal generation to bail us out.


The Mathematics of Hyperbole are Stark:
A 63% Increase in 10 Years?

What They Say The Reality What It Means For America
“So is there enough natural gas to do this? The answer is absolutely yes… U.S. natural gas producers can increase supplies by 5% per year for at least the next decade.”  Testimony of Chesapeake Energy before the U.S. House Select Committee What 5% annual growth over a decade would require:•   Twice the production of Texas
•   Four Gulfs of Mexico
•   10 Louisianas
•   Eight Alaskan pipelines   

•  A never-ending treadmill of hundreds of thousands of wells with 70% first-year decline rates.•  Environmental impacts of untold magnitude on water, air, land and society.   

Such excessively optimistic forecasts led to over 90% of the power plants built in the last 10 years to be natural gas-based. The price for those mistakes was very high. Families paid billions of dollars more to heat their homes, some companies went bankrupt and others took their jobs overseas.

In his seminal essay, Reason in Common Sense, Santayana warned: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Based on our continuing rush to once again increase dependency on natural gas generation, the ability of our educational system to convey history to the populace must be very limited indeed.

Already Out on a Natural Gas Limb

And Cavalierly Marching Forward:

  • 45,000 more megawatts of natural gas generation is planned
  • Push for coal plants to convert to natural gas
  • Wind generation must have major gas back up
  • Climate legislation means more natural gas consumption “in every case analyzed” by the EIA
  • New EPA regulations could lead to 35% increase in gas used for generation


” Continued high levels of dependence on natural gas for electricity generation in Florida, Texas, the Northeast, and Southern California have increased the bulk power system’s exposure to interruptions in fuel supply and delivery.”  North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), 2009
The Economy   The Environment
“… past efforts to forecast natural gas prices have been highly inaccurate compared to actual prices…. greenhouse gas policies will further complicate these efforts, likely rendering future natural gas price forecasts even less accurate and uncertain.”   California Energy Commission, 2009 Double Arrow “Benzene is a high-risk carcinogen and was found in nearly half of all flowback waters from Pennsylvania and West Virginia (14/29 samples) at concentrations ranging from 15.7 to 1950 μg/L, with an average of 479.5 μg/L… nearly 100 times the maximum contaminant level (5 μg/L) established by the EPA.” Dr. Susan Rhia, Director, New York State Water Resources Center, 2009

1.    http://sites.nationalacademies.org/NRC/index.htm
2.    http://www.eeb.cornell.edu/howarth/GHG%20emissions%20from%20Marcellus%20Shal  e%20–%20with%20figure%20–%203.17.2010%20draft.doc.pdf
3.    http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/president-attend-copenhagen-climate-talks
4.   http://money.cnn.com/2010/03/29/news/economy/natural_gas/index.htm
5.    See Gas Daily, July 2, 1998 and aga.org/stats Studies, 1998
6.    http://energy.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Hearings.ByMonth
7.    Senate Testimony presented by Chesapeake Energy, July, 2008
8.    http://www.nerc.com/page.php?cid=4%7C53%7C59
9.    “Natural Gas Price Volatility,” California Energy Commission, November, 2009.
10.    Dr. Susan Rhia ,et al.; http://wri.eas.cornell.edu/
11.    Energy data and projections based on EIA, Annual Energy Outlook, 2010, and data files at http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/aeo/aeoref_tab.html

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