Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Curious Green Gas Attack

Climate scientists agree that we need to decrease planet wide CO2 emissions by 80% as soon as possible. Because it will be very difficult to eliminate the use of fossil fuels in some economic sectors - air transport, shipping, the military, agriculture, mining, it would seem desirable to move as quicklu as possible to remove fossil fuels from areas where substitutes are readily available. These would include surface transportation, electrical generation, and space and water heating. The goal for electrical generation would seem to move beyond the use of fossil fuels as quickly as possible. This would represent a significant nove toward decarbonizing society. The great CO2 savings can be saved by electrifying surface transportation. Finally a combination of solar and electrical technologies can convert existing building heat use to either solar or electrical technologies. Thus natural gas use should be quickly curtailed as an energy technology because its burning produces CO2 which contributes to AGW. One would expect individuals and organizations tht claim to be pro-environment, climate progressive, pro renewables, pro clean energy, etc to favor the quick termination of natural gas use in electrical generation. Such expectations rest on the mistaken notion that Greens are sane.

Recently Greenpeace offered an energy plan that focused on closing down most of the 104 carbon free nuclear plants currently in use in the United States by 2020. The Greepeace plan actually called for their replacement by the construction of natural gas fired power plants. Clearly Greenpeace regards its nutty war against nuclear power as more important than the fight against global warming.

I recently pointed out the basic objection to the Greenpeace natural gas advocacy:
The whole problem with natural gas can be summed up with two words: carbon dioxide. Even though we might use natural gas more efficiently, it is still a carbon based fossil fuel, and when we burn it, we increase the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. There are other issues. Natural gas is becoming more expensive to extract. Thus even when used efficiently, natural gas is regarded as a high cost fuel, and natural gas generators are usually treated as peak reserve power sources because utilities can charge more for peak power. Natural gas generating systems have low capital cost, but high fuel costs. Natural gas generators are also useful as load followers. This undoubtedly has a lot to do with why [r]evolution sees as many natural gas generators producing electricity in 2040 as were producing electricity. Grid instability caused by the intermittency of solar and wind generating sources has to be controlled, in order to keep the grid from constantly crashing. Gas turbines have enough flexibility to handle the load stabilizing task on a renewables dominated grid. Unfortunately we cannot speak of such a grid as a post carbon grid, since the [r]evolution grid will be still dependent on the burning of carbon based fuel in 2040. presumably after 2040 electricity from non-intermittent renewable sources - hydro, biomass, and geothermal - will replace replace natural gas, but this assumes that biomass and geothermal will be ready provide large amounts of reliable electricity in a generation. This is a risk of the [r]evolution plan, and quite frankly the odds at present run heavily against biomass, and geothermal, while hydro is not envisioned to expand enough to pick up the slack if biomass and geothermal fail to live up to the expectations which the [r]evolution plan places upon them.
Amory Lovins, of course has been a long time shill of the natural gas industry and a habitual greewasher of natural gas. It is not surprising that Lovins sycophant Joe Romm has recently joined the crowd of barkers outside the natural gas tent
have been researching what may be the single biggest game changer for climate action in the next two decades — U.S. natural gas supply. Last week I attended a workshop where some of the country’s leading gas experts presented the remarkable new projections for near- and medium-term supply and then answered questions from some of the country’s top energy experts.

The bottom line is staggering. As one of the presenters put it, “If the current trend continues” for production of unconventional gas, then by 2020 “natural gas could displace half of the coal burning power plants.” If that is true, and the projections by the other experts were comparable, then natural gas alone could essentially meet the entire Waxman-Markey CO2 target for 2020 — without requiring gobs of new power plants to be sited and built or thousands of miles of new transmission lines.

There is simply no doubt that, other than energy efficiency and conservation, the lowest-cost option for achieving large-scale CO2 reductions by 2020 is simply replacing electricity produced by burning coal with power generated by burning more natural gas in the vast array of currently underutilized gas-fired plants (as I will discuss in more detail in Part 2). Natural gas is the cheapest, low-carbon baseload power around.

And it’s not just suppliers and industry experts calling for a major expansion of natural gas. In its detailed analysis of how the U.S. can quickly slash CO2 emissions and transition off of coal without building new nukes, Energy [R]evolution, Greenpeace (!) projects a 50% growth in natural gas power generation by 2020.
There are several flaws to Joe's reasoning. The capital cost for switching to natural gas may be low, but the fuel cost may not be. Joe assumes that the natural gas supply is going to rise, but Oil Drum bad girl Gail the Actuary points to the what has recently been happening in the Natural Gas market.
At this point, natural gas prices are back at 2002 levels. This is too low a level to be profitable, and natural gas producers have reduced the number of drilling rigs by more than half since September 2008. With fewer drilling rigs, natural gas production can be expected to decline in the not too distant future, perhaps late 2009 or sometime in 2010.
So Joe is planning to switch from coal to natural gas generation just as natural gas production drops. Good show, Joe.

Joe also adds a further greenwashing to natural gas:
Everyone who cares about clean energy and climate issues needs to become knowledgeable on shale gas — both its supply potential and the environmental risks associated with extracting it. Where to start? I’m glad you ask
Now surely Joe know better. I have pointed out to Joe the radon problem natural gas extracted from thal. Radon is a naturally radioactive gas that is present in rocks. When natural gas is pumped to the surface, radon flows with it. So you have radioactive radon contaminating everything the natural gas touches, including gas generators. Joe does not want you to become knowledgable about the radiations issues of natural gas. Natural gas is us clean, safe, renewable, and planet friendly. Would I ever kid you? But if you doubt me, just ask Joe.

Not all of Joe's readers have been pleased with Joe';s natural gas advocacy. "jorleh" commented:
Once more. Is gas better than nuclear? I think even nuclear is better than fossil fuels.

Must hope Joe only had a minor stroke.


The North Coast said...

Greenpeace's war against nuclear power and its promotion of natural gas as the principle fuel strikes me as being so deeply irrational that even the Greenpeace people themselves cannot possibly be blind to the insanity of it- IF indeed they really care whether or not we continue on as a technological society.

The worst thing about natural gas is that it is nonrenewable, just as oil is, and is just as subject to rapid depletion. As it is, we are drilling in more unlikely places all the time to find the natural gas to meet current needs. Gas drilling is the source of really toxic pollution, and importing natural gas is very dicey, in that a LNG terminal is one of the most hazardous and incendiary things you can have in your town, and naturally, armies of NIMBYs rise up everywhere one is proposed.

Now, if we ramp up the consumption of natural gas at the rate needed to switch all our power generation and transportation to gas power, we will deplete remaining supplies very rapidly. Also, gas wells have a nasty way of stopping very suddenly and without warning, unlike oil wells that go down the slope gradually. At this time, we have passed the peak of gas discovery- can the peak of production lie too much further down the road? And how much steeper will be the slope of depletion once the peak is crossed?

Greenpeace is pretty well advertising the fact that not only do their people not have any concept of what it takes to power our civilization and what will be the likely consequences of a rapid power-down,but that they do not care.

It bothers them not at all to consider that a steep drawdown in available energy supplies will result in random death on a mass scale in rich and poor countries alike, and that we will revert to a pre-1750 mode of life, with the scarcity, filth, and brutality that was the lot of about 85% of the population at that time. I guess they figure that they, being of the "elite" will be spared.

The Greenpeace agitators and most, though not all, of their fellow travelers deeply hate humanity and are deeply anti-life.

Barry Brook said...

Two words says it all:

Unbelievable hypocrisy


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