The journal Nature recently published a bombshell article that called the decade’s long promise of abundant natural gas a “fallacy,” and now some experts are wondering if the U.S. is developing a dangerous over reliance on natural gas, according to a recent article in Forbes.
Scientists from the University of Texas at Austin wrote in Nature that forecasts for the longevity of the U.S. shale gas boom, including projections from energy companies and the federal Energy Information Administration, are little better than guesswork. “Multiple indicators suggest that boom might go bust much sooner than expected, critics say, perhaps just a few years from now,” the article states.
If that assertion is true, American energy policy could be flawed, according to Forbes. “The expectation that new drilling techniques will keep the nation awash in cheap natural gas for many decades is driving plans to begin exporting the fuel as liquefied natural gas, or LNG, to global markets, a historical first in the continental U.S. It has also helped to justify tough new federal emissions regulations for existing power plants, proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and slated for implementation in the next two years. Should that come to pass, the new rules, which target both particulate pollution and carbon dioxide emissions would almost certainly force utilities to shutter many coal fired power plants and make the switch to natural gas”, Forbes wrote.
It’s clear that “the United States is putting a lot of eggs in the natural gas basket. And that makes studies like the one that appeared last month in Nature all the more worrisome for some industry watchers,” the article continues.
The concern about natural gas supplies is in part driven by “the observed drop off in production rates at many existing shale gas wells. Such wells often deliver mightily in the first year or so, only to quickly go feeble,” Forbes wrote. “This, some critics have argued, is unsustainable, as companies are forced to rapidly drill new wells in order to make up for the rising losses at existing ones, and always in areas that are less productive than the last.”
Research at the University of Texas, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, suggests that “while many gas bearing shale formations are geographically vast, the number of so called ‘sweet spots’ where the fuel can be extracted in meaningful volumes could be far smaller than originally thought,” they wrote.
The article asks what will happens if the nation bets too optimistically on the long term availability of natural gas. “With coal fired power facing ever steeper regulatory hurdles, what happens if natural gas production plummets and prices skyrocket? Is the rush to export natural gas a wise move, given the uncertainties that linger over the resource’s long-term availability?”
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