Op-Ed: Natural gas could replace coal

Posted Jun 2, 2012 by Eliot Elwar
If natural gas production is not thwarted by environmental interests, it could overtake coal during the next two decades to become the second largest world energy source. This will give Mideast and Russian gas producers some serious competition.
Natural gas drilling rig in Texas.
Natural gas drilling rig in Texas.
Natural gas drilling rig in Texas.
According to Reuters, a flourishing in alternative natural gas resources could see the U.S. and others profit from inexpensive energy, while Mideast energy importance declines within the next 20 years, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Development in shale and other newly available forms of natural gas in the U.S. and China could match gains made in conventional gas in Russia, the Mideast, and North Africa combined, according to IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol.
The Bloomberg Business Week reported a tripling of natural-gas production from unconventional sources will only happen if environmental concerns are addressed, according to IAE report. Annual extraction from unconventional resources could rise to 1.6 trillion cubic meters in 2035 to account for 32 percent of all gas production, up from 14 percent this year, according to an IEA report released recently. This figure will be reached if companies and regulators are transparent, monitor environmental impacts and take the concerns of local communities seriously, according to the IAE report.
The International Business Times reported Oklahoma became the sixth state to enforce fracking disclosure rules on the oil and gas industry. As of 1 July 2012, oil and natural gas companies must disclose the chemicals employed when hydraulically fracturing rock to extract oil and gas. Spurred by fears that hydraulic fracturing, which calls for the pumping of millions of gallons of water, sand and drilling chemicals into underground rock formations to release trapped oil and natural gas, is damaging the environment, harming the geophysical regions, and ruining communities, states throughout the nation are patching together new rules and regulations.
According to Vicki Vaughan, Hydraulic fracturing in shale formations “has no direct connection” to groundwater contamination as a recent study concluded. The study, conducted by the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, found that many problems attributed to hydraulic fracturing “are related to processes common to all oil and gas drilling operations,” such as drilling pipe inadequately cased in concrete. Many reports of contamination can be traced to above-ground spills or other mishandling of wastewater produced from shale drilling and not from hydraulic fracturing, according to Charles “Chip” Groat, an Energy Institute associate director who led the project.
For the next two decades, natural gas is a good alternative energy resource for Western powers. It is the purest and most uncontaminated of the fossil fuels, generating mostly water and carbon dioxide when it is combusted, without the dangerous emissions generated by burning oil or coal. There is plenty of domestic supply for natural gas, permitting the U.S. to export rather than import this resource and reducing the nation's dependence on foreign oil derived from the Mideast and all its troubles. Natural gas could satisfy an important energy requirement during the next 20 years while other alternative energy technologies mature such as cold fusion, nuclear power, and solar energy.