Monday, October 21, 2019

Natural Gas - Unnatural Consequences

$112 billion worth of new natural gas plants are proposed or under construction, along with $32 billion of proposed pipeline projects to carry the gas from shale fields to the plants. Joe Daniel, a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists told USA Today, “it would make de-carbonizing the power sector by 2050 nearly impossible.”

Natural gas is now America’s leading source for electricity generation, providing 35 percent of fuel. The EIA currently expects gas to rise to 39 percent by 2050, still higher than the expected 31 percent of electricity provided by renewables. The effects of gas becoming our dominant fossil fuel is only now being understood.

The natural gas industry claim it is the “bridge” between coal and renewable energy, pushing gas as a “foundation for the future” because it is “clean.” The PR campaign seeks to focus only on the climate benefits of gas vs. coal and not the broader debate of gas vs. renewables. Gas producers know their claim of being “clean” does not match solar and wind. They know their only hope to be a “foundation for the future” is to lock in consumer dependence to gas infrastructure for many decades to come. Bloomberg New Energy Finance says that by 2030, “new wind and solar ultimately get cheaper than running existing coal or gas plants almost everywhere.” An analysis by Lazard Asset Management that found that the range of unsubsidized levelized costs of onshore wind and utility-scale solar to be below that of natural gas.

The federal Energy Information Administration has estimated that by 2023, the levelized cost of producing power by onshore wind and solar, will be considerably cheaper than natural gas ($36.60, $37.60 and $40.20 per megawatt hour respectively for each energy source). Levelized costs reflect construction and operation costs over the technology’s assumed lifetime, including subsidies, which solar and wind currently enjoy.
The growing gap between ever-cheaper renewables and natural gas means that some 71 percent of planned new gas capacity analyzed by RMI could become uneconomic by 2035,  potentially resulting in tens of billions of dollars of silent hulks otherwise known as stranded assets. If new pipelines were built, they are likely to become underutilized almost overnight as the amount of gas flowing through them plummets 20 to 60 percent over the next 16 years, depending on the region.
Conversely, RMI says that replacing the planned gas projects with clean energy could save consumers $29 billion and avoid major volumes of greenhouse gases

The United States Geological Survey recently announced new estimates of reachable gas in Appalachia and upstate New York that are nearly double the old estimates. Despite the fact that New York banned fracking in 2014 for its feared health risks, USGS Director Jim Reilly called these reserves “crucial to ensuring our nation’s energy independence.” Reilly who ordered his scientists to study climate change only out to 2040 instead of the rest of the century, when even more dire impacts are expected to kick in.

Trump recently rolled out its plans to eliminate methane standards for new gas and oil operations. Even though some of the biggest energy companies said they opposed the rollback of methane standards, the administration’s actions are quite convenient for industry’s unified attempt to narrowly frame gas as a friend of the environment.
Many major oil and gas producers tout “sustainability” programs to dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of their operations. But those pledges are hard to square with their proclamations about natural gas.
Harry Brekelmans, Shell’s projects and technology director,  told analysts this summer: “Probably the greatest contribution Shell can make right now is to continue to increase the role of natural gas to fuel transport, heat and light homes, and power industries.” ExxonMobil’s 2019 Energy and Carbon Summary says: “Natural gas will expand its role, led by growth in electricity generation and industrial output.”

. In a 2013 report, Union of Concerned Scientists said that while gas might play a “modest” role in a clean energy future, a gas-dominated system will “fail to effectively address the growing dangers of climate change.

Most studies show methane emissions to be soaring in the fracking era, at rates already close to a negating any suggested benefits of natural gas over coal in terms of global warming emissions. Risks to those who live near fracking operations continue to emerge. Just before Trump took office, the Environmental Protection Agency under Obama found that fracking could contaminate drinking water.

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