Bridge Fuel, My Arse

That’s my translation of Monbiot’s position on the huge gas reserves recently discovered in the UK. Today, in a follow-up post, he writes that

any shale gas finds raise our exploitable reserves of fossil fuels, just as we should be reducing them. The world’s minerals companies have already found far greater reserves than we can afford to burn without triggering climate breakdown. What is the point of prospecting for new supplies?

I thought the point (speaking only of natural gas) was make coal go extinct and buy time for renewables to scale up and new generation nuclear to come on line?

17 Responses to “Bridge Fuel, My Arse”

  1. Jarmo says:

    What’s the point of prospecting more?

    Simple. Energy security:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/gas/6934636/Britain-facing-gas-shortages-as-freezing-weather-continues.html

    The paper George quotes in his earlier post also points out that the methane leaks that increase the footprint of shale gas can be largely eliminated:

    The EPA estimates that ‘green’ technologies can reduce gas-industry methane emissions by 40% (GAO 2010). 


    Methane emissions during the flow-back period in theory can be reduced by up to 9
    0% through Reduced Emission Completions technologies, or REC (EPA 2010).
    http://www.sustainablefuture.cornell.edu/news/attachments/Howarth-EtAl-2011.pdf 

  2. Eric Adler says:

    Jarmo @1
    The primary conclusion of the paper you quoted is that shale gas as it is currently extracted and distributed is worse than coal in it impact of global warming.
    They do quote the EPA that in theory this problem can be fixed. This leads to two questions.
    Is it economically viable to capture the methane that is vented into the air to make natural gas better than coal?
    Is it possible  for the US government to fix this problem? 
    Since a lot of gas is produced by fracking already, why isn’t something being done now?
     

  3. harrywr2 says:

    The UK consumed 84 MTOE(Million tonnes oil equivalent) of Natural Gas in 2010, 74 Million tonnes of oil and 31 MTOE of coal in 2010.
    Domestic production of coal in the UK was 11 MTOE in 2010. 
     
     
     
     
     

  4. Keith Kloor says:

    Eric, have a look at this recent post by Michael Levi. 

  5. Sashka says:

    Climate breakdown my arse.

  6. Marlowe Johnson says:

    Keith,

    I’m not sure that Wigley’s paper is relevant in this context. Any new  coal plants in the U.K. would have had NOx and SOx controls on them. As a result the positive radiative forcing from the CO2 emissions wouldn’t be cancelled out by negative forcing from aerosol emissions.

    So the shale find in the UK could have a net benefit on the UK’s GHG emissions compared to a BAU scenario.  Whether or not such a shift to a less carbon intensive energy source is adequate is another question entirely.

    IMO, the more interesting angle on this is what the geopolitical implications will be for Europe if the shale field proves to be as extensive and accessible as early reports suggest.  It’s not difficult to see that such a development could significantly weaken Russia’s leverage over its neighbors that currently depend on it for the gas…
     

  7. Eric Adler says:

    Keith @4,
    Thanks for the link.  It makes a good point. If gas is going to be phased out soon enough, since it gets converted to CO2 , which is 10 times less effective in trapping radiation,after 10 years or so in the atmosphere, its worst effects would be over soon after phase out.
    So it is not that bad as a transition fuel, if its use ceases soon enough in favor of non emitting sources of energy.
    Currently the  waste natural gas produced by drilling for oil and refining is flared, and this is a better alternative than simply venting it into the atmosphere.
     
     

  8. Keith Kloor says:

    Marlowe,

    The geopolitical implications are huge. And I believe they will carry the day. 

  9. Marlowe Johnson says:

    Eric
    Don’t confuse atmospheric residence time of a molecule with the amount of time it takes for a pulse of carbon to exit circulation via natural sequestration processes. If only it were ten years. Unfortunately, it’s far from it, which is why CO2 emissions are essentially cumulative on human timescales…. 

  10. Jarmo says:

    #2

    Eric, it seems that nobody has paid much attention to this because it has been viewed in purely economic terms (gas losses and safety). All the work done in the USA to reduce methane emissions is on voluntary basis:

    http://www.epa.gov/methane/voluntary.html

    Even present state level regulations regarding gas production seem to make a difference. To answer your question, yes, the government could fix this: 

    Better regulation can help push industry towards reduced emissions. In reconciling a wide range of emissions, the GAO (2010) noted that lower emissions in the Piceance basin in Colorado relative to the Uinta basin in Utah are largely due to a higher use of low-bleed pneumatics in the former due to stricter state regulations. 

  11. Eric Adler says:

    Marlowe Johnson @9,
    I am not claiming the total warming impact of methane emissions are gone in a decade or two. The impact of the CO2 will still be there, but much less than the impact of the methane that it came from.
    This is a valid point made by Levi, but it does not work if use of natural gas continues for a long period of time, and its warming effects are magnified by feedback.

  12. lou says:

    The problem with the bridge analogy is that there is no vision to the other side.  They all make U turns and we are stuck with the same infrastructure that was created with the old technologies.  

  13. Roddy Campbell says:

    ‘What is the point of prospecting for new supplies?’ – er, because if you don’t someone else will, and they’ll make the money when you have to buy it off them.  Not very complicated.

  14. harrywr2 says:

    Jarmo #14,
     
    If we are going to build nuclear plants then why do we need a bridge?
    Which is probably Monbiot’s point.
    Natural Gas is a ‘bridging fuel’ until we work out how to solve the intermittancy problems of wind and solar.
     
     

  15. kdk33 says:

    That shale gas, ohhh that shale gas – $3.75/mmbtu, theses days. 

    Kinda prys the hanger-oners (energy security, peakers, etc) off the decarbonization band wagon.

    And kinda blows up the green-energy-as-jobs-program silliness.

    Of course, now that we know that natural gas is actually worse than coal, I suppose that puts coal right back into the mix.

    So, now its down to convincing people of the looming climate catastrophe, and that’s not been going too well. 

    Interesting times ahead.  November 2012 probably matters.  People wantin’ jobs & stuff.

  16. Jarmo says:

    #15

    Building nuclear takes time. The decision to give permission to that plant was made in 2010 after years of lobbying by power companies. If everything goes as planned the reactor will be online by 2020.

    Of course our friends the Greens will try to stall it all the way:

     http://www.hs.fi/english/article/Green+League+would+close+down+nuclear+power+plants+in+Olkiluoto+in+2018/1135269451192

    In the post-Fukushima western world, I don’t think that nuclear can be built fast enough. It is technically possible but politics, planning permissions and NGO’s will slow it down. A gas plant can be built in a year.

    Besides, the intermittent renewables (that are also going to take a long time to build, with the new grids) will demand a lot of back-up power and that will be gas-powered so gas will not disappear anyway. 

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