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Will unconventional natural gas save us?

Dave, The Oil Drum
…there are real unavoidable concerns that LNG imports will not provide us with sufficient supply to meet inelastic demand soon enough by 2010 or even come anywhere close to meeting these supply problems in the period beyond the end of this decade. Beyond oil and the apparent world-wide peak in light sweet crude, the more I think about our energy problems, the more I come to the conclusion that natural gas shortages in North America are imminent in the timeframe beginning now and for the forseeable future (perhaps 5 to 10 years out or beyond).

The damage this could do to the US economy is enormous. In my view, there is a real crisis pending so this post examines another whole part of the equation in future projections for providing natural gas to meet projected demand involving drilling for Unconventional Natural Gas Resources (pdf)– an overview of what these resources are. The importance of unconventional gas (pdf) is expected to grow out to 2025.

I hope you’ll bear with me here. This is one of those really long posts I do from time to time to try to understand an important issue I didn’t know much about. I even try here and there to emulate HO’s “techie talk” tradition here on TOD though with, I’m sure, limited success.
(9 March 2006)

Market fundies trying to take over European energy policies

Jerome a Paris, Daily Dos
…I have written a fairly long analysis of current European Commission proposals on energy policy over at the European Tribune. I am copying it below, trying to adapt it to a US audience and to explain a few more things. To me, it’s part of a series on the relentless promotion these days of “liberalisation” (in the European meaning of deregulation) and “reform” policies, which, like in the US, have only one goal: make it easier for business to pay workers less, treat them worse, pay less tax, and suffer fewer regulatory cosntraints.

The EU has come up this week with a “Green Paper” (i.e. a strategy proposal to be discussed with Memeber States). I’ve been going through the various documents that have come out, trying to make sense of what has been said and what is being proposed. It’s a strange mix of good statistics, reality-based thinking, political bromides, freemarketista ideology, and wishful thinking. Some sources, random extracts and analysis below.
(9 March 2006)

Survey respondents favor alternative fuels

Alejandro Bodipo-Memba, Detroit Free Press
Most American voters think the country is facing an energy crisis and that government and private industry should invest billions of dollars to increase the role renewable fuels play in the nation’s economy.

Those are the sentiments of a new survey of 1,000 registered voters commissioned by Energy Future Coalition, a nonpartisan public policy initiative in Washington, D.C. The study found:

88% of respondents favor financial incentives such as tax breaks to encourage the use of renewable energy.

92% of Americans support the adoption of minimum federal standards for the use of renewable energy by corporations.

90% of survey participants support a national goal of having 25% of the nation’s energy demand being met by renewable energy sources by the year 2025. Currently, the United States imports nearly 60% of the oil it uses annually.

Renewable fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, are liquid transportation fuels made from such crops as corn and soybeans. Other renewable or alternative sources include solar, wind, water and geothermal energy.

The study, conducted Feb. 12-15 and with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, also found that 80% of the respondents think energy issues are as important as national security and education.
(9 March 2006)
More from David Roberts at Gristmill.

Fusion power: will it ever come?

William E. Parkins, Science (Vol. 311. no. 5766, p. 1380)
In the early 1950s, the hydrogen bomb wakened public awareness to the explosive power of nuclear fusion and launched hope in the physics community to use fusion as a power source. Fission made the trip to utility reasonably quickly, and now, 14% of the world’s electricity is produced in that way. But although practical, controlled energy release from fission followed the discovery of that process by only 3 years, fusion power is still a dream-in-waiting. The explaination has more to do with engineering than with physics.

[Several paragraphs explain the technical difficulties of fusion.]

…The history of this dream is as expensive as it is discouraging. Over the past half-century, fusion appropriations in the U.S. federal budget alone have run at about a quarter-billion dollars a year. Lobbying by some members of the physics community has resulted in a concentration of work at a few major projects–the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor at Princeton, the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), the multinational facility now scheduled to be constructed in France after prolonged negotiation. NIF is years behind schedule and greatly over budget; it has poor political prospects, and the requirement for waiting between laser shots makes it a doubtful source for reliable power. ITER was born in 1987, but no dirt has been dug, and U.S. membership is temporarily in moratorium.

New physics knowledge will emerge from this work. But its appeal to the U.S. Congress and the public has been based largely on its potential as a carbon-sparing technology. Even if a practical means of generating a sustained, net power-producing fusion reaction were found, prospects of excessive plant cost per unit of electric output, requirement for reactor vessel replacement, and need for remote maintenance for ensuring vessel vacuum integrity lie ahead. What executive would invest in a fusion power plant if faced with any one of these obstacles? It’s time to sell fusion for physics, not power.
(10 March 2006)

No future for fusion power, says top scientist
David L. Chandler, New Scientist
Nuclear fusion will never be a practical source of electrical power, argues a prominent scientist in the journal Science

Even nuclear fusion’s staunchest advocates admit a power-producing fusion plant is still decades away at best, despite forty years of hard work and well over $20 billion spent on the research. But the new paper, personally backed by the journal’s editor, issues a strong challenge to the entire fusion programme, arguing that the whole massive endeavour is never likely to lead to anything practical or useful.

“The history of this dream is as discouraging as it is expensive,” wrote William Parkins, a physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project during the second world war, who later became the chief scientist at US engineering firm Rockwell International.

Sadly, Parkins passed away while his lengthy paper, which makes its case on engineering grounds, was being edited. But Donald Kennedy, Science’s editor considered the paper important enough to run the piece posthumously, in a condensed form, and to stand behind its conclusions personally.
(9 March 2006)
Previous article has highlights from the Science article.

Buried at sea: Shell’s plan for greenhouse gases

Terry Macalister, The Guardian
The biggest-ever scheme to bury greenhouse gases below the seabed is being planned by energy groups Shell and Statoil. The plan will allow Norwegian gas to be developed for Britain with less environmental damage.

Up to 2.5m tonnes of carbon dioxide annually – the same as would be produced by 1m cars – is to be captured and stored in offshore oil fields, Draugen and Heidrun, at a cost of up to $1.5bn (£867m).

Carbon capture and storage is seen as a potentially vital tool for cutting CO2 emissions and helping to reduce global warming but the technique is still in its infancy. The Norwegian project will not reduce existing CO2 levels but will lead to cleaner power being produced to run the Ormen Lange field, which will eventually provide up to 20% of the UK’s entire gas needs.
(9 March 2006)