Natural Gas and Plenty of It

The highly respected analytics firm, Stratfor, began its report of a recent survey of natural gas reserves in the United States this way:

In 2006, natural gas production in the United States appeared to be in permanent decline. Domestic production had flattened out below the 2002 peak of 693 billion cubic meters, after having briefly risen above a plateau that began in 1997.

A decade ago it was common knowledge that natural gas reserves were declining and consumption was maintaining at steady levels.

Then advanced drilling technologies -- especially horizontal drilling and using fracking techniques to recover natural gas from shale formations -- which were previously impervious to drilling came online.

The Barnett field in Texas was the first major natural gas play using the new techniques. On its heels came what Stratfor calls "the gigantic Marcellus Shale that underlies the Appalachian Mountains." In addition to the large Marcellus deposit, two more exist in Fayetteville, Arkansas and Haynesville, Louisiana. According to Stratfor, Haynesville is "claimed to be the fourth-largest natural gas field in the world."

A study completed by the Potential Gas Committee, a group of academics and industry specialists supported by the Colorado School of Mines, recently completed its biennial report on natural gas reserves. According to an article in the New American magazine, "estimated reserves rose to 2,074 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) in 2008, up from 1,532 Tcf in its 2006 report."

The amount of energy contained in over two trillion cubic feet of natural gas is more than all the energy contained in all the oil in Saudi Arabia.

The New American Magazine writes, "current U.S. usage is about 25 Tcf per year, thus new reserve figures suggest at least 83 years at current usage. But this figure is certainly low."

Several arguments have been made against developing natural gas as a major transportation fuel in the United States as it is in many other countries around the world. We have already taken care of one of the arguments -- that natural gas being used as a transportation fuel would necessarily require existing supplies be diverted from other uses such as peaking electricity production and as a feed stock for the chemical industry.

There is more than enough natural gas for all those uses.

Natural gas is 20 to 30 percent cheaper as a fuel when compared to gasoline at today's market prices. We are importing nearly two-thirds of the oil we use and 70 percent of that is used as gasoline or diesel for America's rolling fleet. We are at the mercy of foreign governments for a steady supply at a known cost. Domestic natural gas does not suffer from either.

As to the argument that the infrastructure doesn't exist for its distribution, the New American states:

With an existing distribution system consisting of 300,000 miles of pipelines, 1,400 compressor stations, 11,000 delivery points, and 394 underground storage facilities, natural gas has both the infrastructure and potential to replace -- or at least augment -- petroleum as a motor fuel.

The amount of natural gas reserves, the ability to recover it, and the existing infrastructure to distribute it make natural gas the "wonder resource" of the 21st Century.

The United States Congress is ahead of the Obama Administration on the value of our natural gas reserves. Companion bills in the U.S. House and Senate -- the NAT GAS Act of 2009 -- provides incentives for a jump start in replacing vehicles running on imported gasoline or diesel with vehicles running on domestic natural gas.

This is especially focused on heavy trucks -- 18-wheelers -- which use about half of all the imported transportation fuel. Over-the-road trucks tend to run the same routes on a regular basis so there is no need for a refueling station on every corner. Further, municipal, county and state vehicles; refuse and recycling trucks; and express delivery and utility fleets -- any vehicle which goes home to the barn every night to be refueled is a target worthy of switching from gasoline or diesel to natural gas.

Natural gas is a big part of the solution to our economic, environmental, and national security problems. We have plenty of natural gas. All we need now is the national will to make appropriate use of it.