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December 09 2011

18:34

Another LNG Deal Inked, Fracking Export Bonanza Continues

On December 7, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commision (FERC) granted a 30-year license to Jordan Cove LNG (liquefied natural gas), located in Coos Bay, Oregon, to transform its existing import terminal license into an export terminal license. It would be the first LNG export terminal on the west coast of the U.S., with multiple LNG export terminals also in the negotiation phase, set to be located on the west coast in Kitimat, British Columbia.

KMTR-TV explains where the unconventional gas, procured via the toxic fracking process explained thoroughly in DeSmogBlog's "Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens our Water, Health, and Climate," will come from for Jordan Cove:

Construction of the Ruby Pipeline has brought gas from Wyoming to Southern Oregon, where it is sent to California. Construction of a new pipeline would link Ruby with Jordan Cove.

El Paso Natural Gas, a subsidiary of El Paso Corporation, owns the Ruby Pipeline. "Ruby is a 680-mile, 42-inch interstate natural gas pipeline," according to its website.

The pipeline that KMTR-TV is referring to, which would link Ruby with Jordan Cove, is called the Pacific Connector Pipeline, and is proposed to be a "234-mile, 36-inch diameter pipeline," according to its website

Wyoming is home to the Niobrara Shale basin, which the Environmental Protection Agency recently revealed as a site of groundwater contamination linked to the fracking process.

LNG from Jordan Cove LNG will be exported to the Asian market, which is willing to pay three times more for the fracked gas than the domestic market. In a September interview with the business journal Platts, Jordan Cove LNG project manager Robert Braddock stated the rationale behind converting Jordan Cove into an export terminal: "we would have certainly much closer access to the Asian markets."

This is but a small piece of a much bigger, broader picture of foreign-based multinational corporations investing in U.S. shale operations in order to benefit from the export potential. This will mean higher prices for U.S. consumers, despite industry claims to champion U.S. energy independence and "affordable" energy.

A Foreign Flurry to Profit from U.S.-Based Shale Gas

Two important investigative reports on the subject came out recently, one by Food and Water Watch and another by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Both of the reports show that, contrary to the claims made by the oil and gas industry that fracking for unconventional energy will "boost local economies," fracking is increasingly revealing itself as a boon for huge multinational corporations, often not even based in North America, but in foreign locales.

"Foreign investment poured into American gas and oil shale fields through three quarters of 2011, amounting to $24.5 billion of the total $39.9 billion in deals," revealed the Tribune-Review

Furthermore, as DeSmogBlog previously revealed, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has approved two LNG export deals, both in Sabine Pass, Texas, with many many more FERC deals in the middle of the approval process.

The map below, produced by the Tribune-Review, best portrays who stands to gain from the North American fracking boom happening in every crevice of the United States. "Boosting the local economy"? As can be seen quite clearly, this is merely a pipe dream.

18:24

Fracking Ohio's Utica Shale to "Boost Local Economy"? A "Total" Sham

It is a well-known fact that the unconventional gas industry is involved in an inherently toxic business, particularly through hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"), which the EPA just confirmed has contaminated groundwater in Wyoming. The documentary film "Gasland," DeSmogBlog's report "Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens our Water, Health, and Climate," and numerous other investigations, reports, and scientific studies have echoed the myriad problems with unconventional oil and gas around the globe.

What is less well-known, but arguably equally as important, is who exactly stands to benefit economically from the destruction of our land, air, and water in the gas industry's rush to profit from the fracking bonanza. The U.S oil and gas industry would have us believe that they are principally focused on ushering in American energy independence. But their claims are increasingly suspect as the real motivation of this industry becomes clearer by the day.

A hint: it's not the small "mom and pop," independent gas companies, but multinational oil and gas corporations. Another hint: it's often not even American multinational oil and gas corporations, but rather, foreign-based multinational oil and gas corporations who stand to gain the most.

France's Total S.A. Enters Ohio's Utica Shale, as well as Uganda, South Sudan and Kenya

On December 7, Bloomberg's Businessweek reported that Total S.A. is positioning itself to acquire 25 percent of Chesapeake Energy’s stake in Ohio's Utica Shale, valued at $2.14 Billion

Total S.A., the largest oil and gas producer in France, is a multinational corporation perhaps most notorious for its involvement in Iraq's "Oil-For-Food" scandal. In 2010, Total S.A. was accused of bribing former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's officials to secure oil supplies. 


Total SA also brokered another big deal on December 7, this one in Uganda, a place I recently wrote about on AlterNet in a piece titled, "Did Obama Just Kick Off Another Oil War — This Time in Africa?" It appears the question raised and answered in my article is being confirmed more and more with each passing day.

Explaining the terms of the deal, Reuters wrote, "French oil major Total said it could build a pipeline from South Sudan to Uganda that would continue to Kenya’s coast, potentially solving the fledgling state’s headache about how to export its oil."

These announcements comes on the heels of a December 1 announcement by another foreign corporation, Norway's Statoil, stating that it "would like to add to its acreage position in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas as it looks to grow its unconventional oil and gas position in North America."

Speaking of corruption, by the way, Ohio is a natural landing spot for Total S.A.

Ohio: Home to Big Gas Money

Common Cause of Ohio, in a recent report titled "Deep Drilling, Deep Pockets," revealed that from 2001 through June 2011, Republican Governor John Kasich received $213,519 in campaign contributions from the gas industry. The Republican Senatorial and House Campaign Committees took another $210,250 from the gas industry during that same time period.

Not to be outdone, on the other side of the aisle, former Democratic Governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, received $87,450 during that time frame. 

Top donors included the following:

  • Ohio Oil & Gas Producers Fund - $820,285
  • British Petroleum PAC & Employees - $215,438
  • Marathon Oil PAC & Employees - $207,054

Summing things up, Common Cause wrote,

Companies engaged in fracking contributed $2.8 million to state candidates, political committees, and parties in Ohio from 2001 through June 2011, helping the natural gas industry preserve what are some of the nation’s most lenient fracking regulations. Ohio does not require full disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process, has stripped from local governments the power to regulate fracking, and allows fracking as close as 100 feet to a residence.

All in all, this is a bad deal for the people of Ohio, but a great deal for global multinational oil corporations, a pattern all too familiar in the American political fray.

Any way one slices it, the claim that the gas industry first and foremost is a "good neighbor" who will "benefit the local economies," is a total sham. 

 

Sponsored post

December 01 2011

22:43

LNG Groundhog Day: Cheniere Energy Signs Yet Another Gas Export Deal on Gulf Coast

Another day, another unconventional gas export deal signed. Nascent North American LNG (liquefied natural gas) export deals are happening so fast and furiously that it is hard to keep track of them all.

The latest: On November 21, Cheniere Energy Partners signed a 20-year LNG export deal with Gas Natural Fenosa, an energy company which operates primarily in Spain but also in such countries as Italy, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, and Morocco. Cheniere will maintain the Sabine Pass LNG export terminal located off of Sabine Lake between Texas and Louisiana, which feeds into the Gulf of Mexico, while Gas Natural Fenosa will ship the gas to the global market.

Cheniere, which made waves when its CEO Charif Souki announced that his corporation's business model would center exclusively around LNG export terminals, also recently signed a 20-year export deal with BG Group, short for British Gas Group.

Like the recent export deal with BG Group, which involves carrying fracked unconventional gas from various shale basins around the United States via pipelines to the Sabine Pass LNG export terminal, the Gas Natural Fenosa deal also centers around the export of gas from Sabine Pass to the global market.

This new deal will presumably center around shipment of LNG to the Latin American market, whereas the BG Group deal centers around exports to the European market.

A press release explaining the details of the deal reads, “LNG will be loaded onto Gas Natural Fenosa's vessels…[with] twenty years commencing upon the date of first commercial delivery, and an extension option of up to ten years. LNG deliveries are expected to commence in 2016.”

It is increasingly clear that export is the name of the game for the gas companies fracking all over America, exploding the industry's claims to support U.S. energy independence.

A recent Senate hearing confirmed that the industry's plans to export gas from the U.S. will raise gas prices for Americans.

So much for that oil and gas industry canard that unconventional gas fracking "promises more affordable energy for Americans."

 

Image Credit: Oleksandr Kalinichenko / Shutterstock

November 18 2011

13:15

ExxonMobil and Shell Eyeing North American LNG Export Deals

Yesterday, LNG World News reported that ExxonMobil Vice President Andrew Swiger announced, at a conference hosted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, that it was actively seeking LNG (liquefied natural gas) export terminals throughout North America, including, but not limited to, in British Columbia and on the Gulf Coast.

In terms of exports from North America, whether it is the Gulf Coast or whether it is Western Canada, it’s something we’re actively looking at,” said Swiger.

So, where are these prospective export terminals located, what are the key pipelines carrying the unconventional gas produced from shale basins, and what are the key shale basins in the mix? Hold tight for an explanation.

Golden Pass LNG Terminal and Golden Pass Pipeline

The LNG World News article explains that ExxonMobil "has a stake in the Golden Pass LNG Terminal in Texas," but does not explain exactly what the "stake" is.

A bit of research shows that ExxonMobil is a 17.6% stakeholder in the Golden Pass LNG Terminal, according to a March 2011 article publshed by Platts. It is co-owned by ConocoPhillips and Qatar Petroleum, who own a 12.4% and 70% stake in Golden Pass LNG, respectively.

Golden Pass LNG is stationed in Sabine Pass, TX, located on the Gulf Coast on the Texas-Louisiana border, which is in close proximity to Cheniere's Sabine Pass LNG export terminal, a terminal which has been written about in-depth by DeSmogBlog.

As of now, Golden Pass is an import terminal, and "is among the largest LNG import facilities worldwide, with the capacity to import 15.6 million metric tons of LNG annually," explains LNG World News. But many import facilities have turned into export facilities, including the Jordan Cove LNG terminal in Coos Bay, Oregon, the Dominion Cove LNG terminal in Lusby, Maryland, and Kitimat LNG terminal in Kitimat, British Columbia. Gas corporations often execute the bait-and-switch, transforming what were originally import terminals into export terminals.

If history repeats itself, which is highly likely based on this latest report from LNG World News, then the Golden Pass LNG Terminal could soon be transformed into an export terminal, making it export terminal number two in Sabine Pass.

It appears for now that the gas would come from the shale basins surrounding Sabine Pass, meaning the Barnett Shale, the Eagle Ford Shale, the Haynesville Shale, and the Fayetteville Shale, and flow out these respective shale basins via an extensive pipeline system, to the key Golden Pass and Sabine Pass hubs. 

For example, Golden Pass also owns Golden Pass Pipeline, which runs from the Haynesville Shale down to the Golden Pass LNG terminal.

Horn River Basin Shale and Pacific Trail Pipelines

LNG World News' article also mentions that ExxonMobil "has 340,000 shale gas acres in Western Canada’s Horn River Basin." The Horn River Shale Basin is located in northeastern British Columbia and sits on 250 trillion cubic feet of unconventional gas, producred through the toxic hydraulic fracturing, or fracking process. 

Assuming ExxonMobil holds true to the pronouncement made by Swiger, much of the gas produced in the Horn River Basin will flow westward to Kitimat LNG export terminal, which ships gas to the Asian market. 

One of these facilities is co-owned by EOG Resources (EOG), EnCana Corporation (EnCana), and Apache Corporation (Apache). In October 2011, Canada’s National Energy Board, the Canadian equivalent to the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, granted Kitimat LNG a 20-year Export Licence to serve international markets. The Pacific Trail Pipelines connect the Horn River Basin to the Kitimat LNG facility and are also co-owned by EOG, EnCana, and Apache. 

Another key LNG export terminal in the works will be co-owned by Shell, Korea Gas Corporation, China National Petroleum Corporation, and Mitsubishi Corporation.

The Globe and Mail explained the looming deal, writing

Shell is examining plans for a 3.6 billion cubic feet a day project, which would be among the largest under consideration in the world…Kitimat LNG intends to build a 700-million cubic foot facility first, at a cost greater than $5-billion, but has received an export licence that allows it to double that. The partnership intends to make a final investment decision early next year, but is already spending several hundred million dollars to terrace the sloped site of the intended terminal, the first step in construction.

A pipeline arrangement paralleling the EOG, EnCana, Apache agreement will likely follow the Shell export deal announcement, carrying gas fracked from the Horn River Shale Basin to Kitimat, in order to be exported, in the form of LNG, to the profitable Asian market. 

North American Export Market a Huge Racket

As is now perfectly clear and has been made clear by DeSmogBlog on multiple occasions, not only is the unconventional gas industry unconcerned with the "domestic consumption" of gas for "national security" purposes, but perhaps even more importantly, two of the largest fossil fuel corporations in the world, Shell and ExxonMobil, are now in the fray of the export game.

Deals of this nature will likely proliferate as time progresses, with what has been coined the "one-percent" by the Occupy Wall Street movement, standing with the most to gain from them.

November 17 2011

20:28

ExxonMobil and Shell Stamp Huge Oil and Gas Deals in Iraq

Just a few weeks after President Barack Obama announced U.S. troops are "leaving" the war-torn country, ExxonMobil and Shell each announced major new oil and gas production agreements in Iraq.

On November 12, ExxonMobil signed an oil production deal with the Kurdish Regional Government to drill in Iraqi Kurdistan, located in northern Iraq. This comes on top of an existing oil deal it landed in 2009, to drill for oil in the West Qurna Field, located in southern Iraq.

The New York Times explained both deals:

Exxon and its partners agreed to invest $50 billion over seven years to increase output by about two million barrels of oil per day there, at West Qurna Phase 1, bringing more new oil to market than the United States currently produces in the Gulf of Mexico. Margins, though, are low. Kurdistan offers more lucrative production-sharing agreements, allowing the company to earn a larger share of revenues and to count more of the crude on its books, which helps boost stock prices.

Days later on November 15, Royal Dutch Shell signed a $17 billion natural gas production deal with the Iraqi government. Shell will utilize the natural gas by-product from oil produced at the West Qurna Field, the Rumaila Field, and the Az Zubair Field, and transform it into a usable product. "Shell said it would sell the gas to electrical utilities in Iraq, but that it may also eventually export some," explained The New York Times.

Reuters further explained the specter of an LNG (liquefied natural gas) export deal in the Shell contract, writing,

Iraqi officials have said the project could include building an LNG export facility with a maximum capacity of 600 million cubic feet of gas per day, so long as Iraq's own gas needs are satisfied first

(Snip)

A summary of the official agreement obtained by Reuters after the initial signing in July lists a $4.4 billion LNG export unit, in addition to the $12.8 billion estimated cost of rehabilitating existing gas facilities and building new ones, but it does not say when the LNG plant might be built. 

U.S. Troops Leaving Iraq? Not quite

Critical observers understand full well that the U.S. won't be "leaving" Iraq anytime soon, of course. Instead, up to 3,000 troops will be moved, en masse, into neighboring Kuwait, on top of the already existing 29,000 troops stationed in the small Gulf state. Kuwait is home to seven U.S. military bases.

Furthermore, scores of "peacekeeping forces" will remain inside of Iraq itself. On top of that, untold number of "security forces," also known as private mercenaries, made infamous by Blackwater USA (now XE Services LLC), will also remain inside of Iraq. 

A Familiar Pattern: History Repeats Itself

Weeks ago, I uncovered a parallel oil war the United States launced in Uganda, the eastern African country that borders Lake Albert and the Albertine Basin, which sits on 2.5 million barrels of oil and is home to a key U.S. military base at Entebbe International Airport.

ExxonMobil is a key player looking to profit from Uganda's resource curse, and it likely is also teaming up with the powerful mercenary army Saracen International, which is co-owned by Blackwater founder Erik Prince and Salim Saleh, the brother of Uganda's President, Yoweri Museveni.

Saracen Interntional is a split-off of one of the first mercenary armies of the modern era, Executive Outcomes, which was owned by Tony Buckingham, who now owns Heritage Oil. Heritage, my article explains, along with ExxonMobil, has been working overtime together to secure oil production deals in the Albertine Basin, as seen through the lense of Wikileaks' U.S. State Department diplomatic cables. 

History, then, is repeating itself in Iraq, with the familiar ingredients, including oil, natural gas, mercenary forces, and key military bases, all in place. 

November 15 2011

21:37

Fracking Leads To Export Bonanza: Another Unconventional Gas Export Terminal Submitted to US DOE by Sempra

On November 11, Sempra LNG, a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, submitted an export proposal to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Sempra explained in a press release,

Sempra Energy has become the sixth US company, and fourth in the US Gulf, with formal intentions to export US natural gas as LNG (liquefied natural gas), having filed a request with US regulators…The California-based company asked the US Department of Energy (DOE) for consent to send up to 1.7 billion cubic feet (bcf)/day (0.05 million cubic metres/day) to free-trade-friendly countries for 20 years. Sempra said the [this] was the first in a two-part process, with a request to export to non-free-trade nations to follow.

This comes on the heels of the huge announcement by Cheniere Energy, Inc. and BG Group, in which the two corporations agreed to work together to export natural gas from the Sabine Pass LNG Export Terminal located on the Gulf Coast in Louisiana to the global market. DeSmogBlog covered that deal in depth in an article titled, "Massive Natural Gas Export Deal Inked by BG Group, So Much for Industry's 'Domestic Energy' Claims."

Sempra's prospective LNG export facility is located on the Calcasieu Channel, 18 miles from the Gulf of Mexico in Hackberry, La, which is approximately 148 miles east of Houston, Texas, and 230 miles west of New Orleans, Louisiana. It appears much of the gas will be shipped off to Europe, as in August 2005, Sempra LNG signed an agreement with Eni, an Italian oil and gas conglomerate, to supply 40 percent of their LNG export capacity to Eni. 

Fracking for unconventional gas for "energy independence" and "national security" purposes? Once again, the facts reveal the contrary.

Image Credit: donvictorio@o2.pl / Shutterstock

September 07 2011

14:30

America’s Natural Gas Pipelines - A Closer Look At This Gigantic Pipeline System

Following up on our broader look at the North American oil and gas pipeline system, with a focus on crude and the special case of tar sands oil pipelines, this week we'll tackle the tubes that carry natural gas.

Natural Gas in the United States

In 2009, the US used some 22 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, surpassing Russia as the world's largest producer and consumer of the fuel. Used for everything from heating homes to lighting cooking ranges to powering fleet vehicles to firing power plants — and often cited as a cleaner-burning energy source than coal or oil — demand for the fossil fuel has spiked in recent years.

While natural gas is produced in 32 states, the top five — Texas, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and New Mexico, in that order — produce a full 65 percent of the nation's total (pdf). This leaves a lot of states dependent on natural gas imports. As this map shows, 28 states need to import at least 85 percent of their gas demands.

natural gas pipelines map

Click here or on the map for a larger version.

Moving this huge amount of natural gas around requires a vast pipeline transmission system. Let's take a closer look at these pipes, shall we?

The Natural Gas Pipeline System

In terms of mere reach and mileage, the natural gas lines that run throughout the country and continent dwarf those that carry crude. While there are roughly 150,000 miles of crude pipelines in the United States (about 55,000 miles of the thick "trunk lines" and 95,000 miles of refined product lines), there are over 305,000 miles of natural gas lines, all part of 210 distinct pipeline systems operated by private companies. That's not to mention the more than 2 million miles of natural gas distribution lines and service pipelines (the smaller "delivery" lines that run through thousands of cities and towns).

On top of all that, according to the Energy Information Administration, to help the gas flow there are:

  • More than 1,400 compressor stations that maintain pressure on the natural gas pipeline network and assure continuous forward movement of supplies  (see map).
  • More than 11,000 delivery points, 5,000 receipt points, and 1,400 interconnection points that provide for the transfer of natural gas throughout the United States.   
  • 24 hubs or market centers that provide additional interconnections  (see map).
  • 400 underground natural gas storage facilities (see map).
  • 49 locations where natural gas can be imported/exported via pipelines (see map).
  • 8 LNG (liquefied natural gas) import facilities and 100 LNG peaking facilities (see map).

Clearly, pipelines are just one part of a larger natural gas transmission system. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), illustrates the system like so:

natural gas pipeline system

Click here or on the image for a larger version.

To oversimplify the process: Gas is gathered from underground or offshore wells, storage tanks holding imported supplies, or other reservoirs, and runs through gathering lines to a processing and treatment plant. Then, a compressor increases pressure of the gas and pushes it through the pipelines. These compressor stations are spaced about 50 to 100 miles apart and move the gas at roughly 15 miles per hour. Some of the gas moving along this subterranean fuel highway is diverted and stored in underground reservoirs to ensure steady supply through the cold winter months when demand for home heating fuel is highest. Eventually, the gas reaches the "city gate" of a local gas utility, the pressure is reduced and an odorant is added (so that leaking gas can be detected). Local gas companies move the fuel the last few miles to homes and businesses, and a gas meter on a building measures the consumer's use.

While it's important to understand the whole system for context, let's hone in on the pipelines themselves. Which, again, are pretty widespread.

Where Are The Pipelines?

There's no better way to show the scale of this natural gas pipeline system than with a map. Like this one from the EIA, which, to be clear, only shows the interstate and intrastate transmission lines, not those 2 million miles of local distribution and service lines:

natural gas pipelines map

Click here or on the map for a larger version.

While that national map is eye-opening, it doesn't do much to answer the question that is likely in the front of anyone's mind: how close are they to me?

PHMSA, which is part of the Department of Transportation (DOT) actually has a helpful — if terribly clunky — mapping tool that lets you zoom in and better see where the pipelines run. The Pipeline Information Management Mapping Application (or PIMMA) lets you zoom in on the system by county. Here's San Francisco County:

natural gas pipelines san francisco

The dark blue lines in the Southeast part of the peninsula are natural gas transmission lines. As you can see, the lines disappear when they hit the city/county line. Not because they don't connect to anything there, but because (like I said) PIMMA is a bit clunky. (If you need some help navigating the PIMMA tool, the Pipeline Safety Trust has a really handy "walkthrough" that's well worth checking out.)

So what if you do live near a natural gas pipeline? Is it reason for concern? My next post will take a look at the state of America's aging natural gas infrastructure, and the considerable safety and security concerns in the system.

Note: This is the third post in an ongoing series covering energy pipelines in North America. See Part 1 and Part 2.

June 11 2011

20:15

Post Carbon Institute Debunks False Hope Of Gas As ‘Bridge Fuel’

Touted by industry as a “clean energy” panacea, unconventional gas is widely heralded as deliverance from air pollution to global warming to foreign energy dependence. It is clean, the drillers say, and there is plenty of it. Descriptions like ‘trillions of cubic feet’ and ‘more than a century’s worth’ are becoming commonplace, used to prop up the vision of a clean, affordable and homegrown unconventional gas future.

But like most things that sound too good to be true, unconventional gas is no exception, as DeSmogBlog pointed out in our own recent report “Fracking the Future.”

Now, continuing to dispel some of the most egregious misconceptions regarding the future of gas, Post Carbon Institute Fellow David Hughes recently released a new report entitled Will Natural Gas Fuel America in the 21st Century?

In his report, Hughes takes on three myths undergirding our gas ambitions: that hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have guaranteed our access to a century’s worth of fuel; that the price of natural gas, which has been historically volatile, will remain low; and that, from a global warming and public health perspective, natural gas is a clean and safe alternative to other fossil fuels.<!--break-->

These assumptions, Hughes writes, are what agencies like the U.S. Energy Information Administration are relying on when it forecasts an increased reliance on shale gas in the coming decades, up to 47 percent of all domestic gas production by 2035. They are also what lies behind President Obama’s recent endorsement of natural gas as “clean” in his “Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future” and the new incentives for transforming America’s vehicle fleet. Other well-regarded environmental organizations like the Worldwatch Institute also joined the gas chorus, suggesting the potential for gas to act as a ‘bridge fuel’ during the transition away from other disastrous energy sources like coal and tar sands oil.

However, the somber lessons of the last decade’s worth of unprecedented drilling across the continent have demonstrated that the ideals behind our burgeoning commitment to gas are unfounded, if not outright nonsensical. If the growing archive of first hand accounts of toxic water and air pollution haven’t made us rethink industry claims, then the steady stream of independent scientific research questioning the fuel’s availability, affordability, safety and cleanliness might do the trick.

Another integral aspect of Hughes’ take-down of the shale gas dream is the impracticable wholesale transition of the nation’s fuel systems to gas. The scope of such a transformation – which would require the dismantling of old energy plants, vehicles, fueling stations and pipeline infrastructure and their subsequent retrofitting or replacement on a nationwide scale – is beyond any realistic economic means, especially with the fragility of the current U.S. economy. 

To support such a costly overhaul, domestic gas production would have to increase by over 100 percent, far above even the most optimistic projections. To retrofit one existing vehicle with a natural gas system currently costs approximately $10,000 in the U.S. And while fueling stations across the country could be switched to compressed natural gas (CNG) to supply smaller vehicles, only liquefied natural gas (LNG) is sufficiently dense to supply larger vehicles like long-haul trucks. LNG must be stored at -162 degrees Celsius and so would require a separate fueling infrastructure. 

In effect, beyond the troubling aspects of its production via fracking, the very notion that unconventional gas has the capacity to provide the nation with a ‘bridge fuel’ is completely misguided. In the first place, there simply is not enough of the fuel to support such deep dependence. 

Secondly, such a switch would also require tremendous amounts of additional resources to carry through, which introduces the additional concern of collateral emissions. And this doesn’t even touch on the equally laborious and resource-intensive replacement of coal-fired power plants. 

When considering the costs associated with committing to unconventional gas as an ‘interim’ fuel, it seems an absurdity, especially when the capital required could be directly invested in the production of truly clean renewable energy. 

Perhaps some were willing to shrug off the unfortunate environmental impacts of gas drilling to somehow usher in a clean energy future, one that held the promise of domestic energy security. But if we cannot rely upon the viability of gas as a clean, bountiful or secure energy alternative, then we must begin to consider, and invest in truly clean energy.

Hughes puts it well in his conclusion: “when it comes to fossil fuels there is no such thing as a free lunch.”

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