UN report: US can quickly become a vast energy power and exporter of cheap energy


For the past year or so I have been writing about the vast wealth America has beneath our feet in the form of shale gas. We have huge amounts trapped in shale rock that can be liberated by blasting it open via a process called hydraulic fractioning (“fracking”). Wells are drilled horizontally miles underground and then a stream of water, sand, and a minor amount of chemicals fracture the rock and release the gas. All this happens far below the surface and the water tables. Natural gas is relatively clean-burning, is on-shore, and is ours.

Now comes a report from the UN (of all places) that asserts America can be on the verge of energy independence and can become one of the world’s great exporters of energy because of our shale gas and oil reserves. Natural gas is the one commodity that has been plummeting in price and delivering an economic jolt of its own for consumers more accustomed to higher energy prices.

From the Washington Examiner that picked up a report from Canada’s Globe and Mail :

    Toronto’s Globe & Mail quotes a UN report that includes this observation: “Within a decade or so, North America will almost certainly emerge as the world’s biggest supplier – and exporter – of reasonably cheap energy.”

    How can that be? As The New York Times reported last month, it’s because the U.S. is incredibly rich with natural gas and oil shale deposits that can be reached affordably using hydraulic fracturing, the injection of liquids into rock formations thousands of feet below the drinking water table.

    The injections force the gas or oil into recoverable areas, thus opening up millions of new barrels of oil and trillions of feet of natural gas for production here in America.

    These new resources are having a profound impact on the U.S. energy situation and it’s happening right now, not off in some projected future, as is the case with the arrival of alternative energy resources like solar, wind, and biomass.

    Intrigued? Here’s more detail from the Globe & Mail:

    “With rising production from shale fields, the U.S. surpassed Russia last year to become the world’s largest supplier of natural gas.

    “Shale now accounts for 10 per cent of the country’s natural gas production – up from 2 per cent in 1990. Chesapeake’s production from its next Texas project, expected by the end of 2012, will by itself supply the energy equivalent of 500,000 barrels of oil a day.

    “For new oil, the U.S. has the huge Green River play that overlaps Colorado and Utah, one of the largest shale oil fields in the world. The EIA reports that the country’s proven reserves of crude rose last year by 9 per cent to 22.3 billion barrels.

    “For natural gas, the U.S. has the four largest fields in the world: the Haynesville field in Louisiana (with production up by 77 per cent in 2009); the Fayetteville field in Arkansas and the Marcellus field in Pennsylvania (both with production up by 50 per cent); and the Barnett field in Texas and Oklahoma (with production up by double-digit increases).

    “The EIA reports that proven U.S. reserves of natural gas increased last year by 11 per cent to 284 trillion cubic feet – the highest level since 1971.”

It is all there for the taking. But Democrats threaten to plug all those holes warming our homes and saving us money. Meanwhile, oil prices are going through the roof — helped along by the Obama administration’s efforts to stop oil drilling off-shore, take land out of commission for exploring, and impose new rules and regulations.

Not only do they overtly and covertly favor green schemes that try to kill carbon in all forms, they have tried to enact one roadblock after another to stop us from tapping our shale gas and oil reserves (see, for example, my columns “Cheap Natural Gas and Its Democratic Enemies,” a follow-up to my previous column Cheap Natural Gas and Its Enemies).

Who would benefit from stopping this energy revolution in its tracks? George Soros, environmentalists, green schemers that need government help (subsidies, investments, mandates) to make their ventures fly — and who reward Democrats with donations, Russia, Hugo Chavez, Arab oil powers, terrorists, and other assorted international bad actors. The Russian government recently expressed concern regarding their international power because America was developing our shale gas resources.

Those are the groups Democrats help when they curtail our own development of this treasure beneath our feet. Nice company to keep, huh?

December 9, 2010 | 6 Comments »

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  1. Fortunately the US has a N/S tract of arid land between the Rockies and the Missippi Valley’s present agricultures. This could be opened up to Jojoba, olives and Jatropha and much else to at least fuel the farm belt tractors and trucks.

    Frank (and Arnold Harris), first we have to divest ourselves of the notion that other than being interesting projects for classrooms of children, solar (photovoltaic) and wind energy systems will do nothing for improving the energy picture. The amounts, and density, of energy produced (at enormous capital costs) are minute compared to the amount required even for the smallest industrial/commercial/transportation applications.

    Now Frank has a point in the above quote; in fact he has several good points. The manufacture of “biodiesel” (or algol) from algae ***on a local basis*** would be a good start for truckers and farmers alike. This approach could be construed as a test-pad for more extensive production of biodiesel from algae, but always with local production and consumption in mind. Centralization is never a great approach as it’s too vulnerable to “problems” that could lead to a complete fuel shutdown.

    As an aside, Canada should consider using its extensive Rapeseed production (Canola) to create a biodiesel industry. This is my own bias; Canola is quite poisonous for me, and I have doubts about its nourishment quality. I haven’t done the math on changing Canola production over to biodiesel, so I can’t say whether or not it’s an economically viable option. But it does show what potentially can be done even with “regular” biomass-type energy production.

  2. All those dismissing the global warming and green lobbies could end laughing the other side of their faces within a lifetime. Methane otherwise rock/shale/natural gas is a serious greenhouse gas four times stronger than carbon dioxide when discounting duration in the atmosphere against immediate strength. Eventually the US and everybody else will have to go into solar, wind, tidal or see the urban NE and Florida flood and with it the money tied up in urban property. Fortunately the US has a N/S tract of arid land between the Rockies and the Missippi Valley’s present agricultures. This could be opened up to Jojoba, olives and Jatropha and much else to at least fuel the farm belt tractors and trucks. Otherwise ammonia in water might not be as calorific as diesel but it is not pressurised gas cylinders.
    Meanwhile click: then scroll down to use the filter to find You will then see the Zaslavsky power towers scheme of the Technion science park firm “Arubot Sharav” These can each provide 400 MW capacity round the year 24/7, and 200 million cubic metres of fresh water a year. 3000 of them World wide would make the US and a lot of other countries independent of the petro sheikhs who can the be left to return to their sand dunes.

  3. BlandOartmeal writes ‘powerful countries are the most dangerous after suffering humiliating set-backs’ and gives some examples. But this really isn’t true at all. After its near destruction at the hands of the Allies in WWII, Germany ceased to be a military threat to anyone. The same is true of Japan. After the collapse of the Ottoman empire, Turkey ceased to be dangerous (except in a small way in Cyprus). After being pushed out of its colonies (especially from Algeria), France gave up any ambitions to global power. Iran was defeated twice by Russia in the early 19th century, but did not become belligerent as a result. It’s simply not possible to make rules for history in the way BlandOartmeal has tried to do. We have to understand situations as they occur and act in response to them, not stasrt from a sweeping and inaccurate theory and try to make events fit our preconceived mould.

  4. What a sick joke. Thes eguys are exmpted form the EPA regulations and are systematically destroying the water supplies nout west through their fracturing process. Shut it down tomorrow. If yiu want cheap energy do the following

    1. Break up the seven sisters through anti trust.
    2. End vertical and horizontal integration that creates a cartel and oligoply.
    3. Reinstate a competitive, free market. Make coal compete with gas against nuclear and hydro electric.

  5. Arnold,

    Ted is saying, if I read him right, that:

    1. The The US has extremely large reserves of petroleum reserves that can be economically extracted, and

    2. We will be independent of Persian Gulf oil within the next few years.

    The above is bound to happen, no matter what happens in the areas of alternative fuels, solar/wave/wind power and nuclear energy.

    Israel is not currently faced with an energy threat. In fact, Israel has apparently struck a natural gas bonanza, with hot air from the knesset having pushed gas in the Mediterranean up to exploitable levels. Even the Russians, who have traditionally backed Israel’s enemies for oil-based geopolitical reasons, are now interested in the newly-found reserves in the eastern Mediterranean and are beginning to cozy up to Israel.

    As I write, there is a great and dangerous confrontation looming between Iran and Saudi Arabia — the two top oil producers in the Persian Gulf. This comes at a time when (1) Persian Gulf wells are being depleted, (2) Gulf oil is rapidly sliding in importance alogside new energy finds such as US shale deposits and Mediterranean offshore drilling, and (3) income from oil exports has the prospect of nosediving because of a rapidly declining dollar.

    How does Iran fit into this picture? It’s most interesting to me, that (1) Iran can say with some justification that it needs to produce nuclear energy in order to meet domestic needs, and (2) cutting off Iran from refined petroleum supplies is being used to pressure them. Energy-wise, it seems as though Iran is grasping, as Sadaam was when he invaded Kuwait, for a bigger piece of a shrinking energy pie. Israel, of course, is just a sideshow in this scenario, a ploy to give Iran leverage over the Saudis.

    I’ve said before, that powerful countries are the most dangerous after suffering humiliating set-backs. This was the case with Germany, humiliated by the severe terms of the Versailles treaty ending WWI (Result: WWII). It was the case with France, after its humiliation in 1763 and collapse in 1789 (Result: the Napoleanic Wars). It was the case with Spain, after the defeat of its Armada and its loss of the Netherlands in the late 1500s (Result: the Thirty Years War). The Gulf states will soon decline from their place of extravagant prestige; and some, like Iraq and Iran, have already begun to tumble.

    The Islamic world in general, having risen between 1948 and 1979 from colonial toadies to troublers of the whole world, are also on the brink of collapse: not so much economically, where their prospects certainly are not good, as socially. They are, to a great extent, in a desperate struggle with the Internet, which is presenting to their citizens a world of tremendous hope and possibilities that Islam has shut them off from. Wahabi fundamentalism, like Naziism before it, is a last-gasp effort to preserve the glory of a culture falling from grace.

    America will work out its energy problems, one way or another; and the article Ted found backs this up. We have shale oil reserves, which are becoming more and more economically feasible; we are among the leaders in nuclear technology, we still have considerable coal reserves, and we have a leg up on other potential fuel sources. Moreover; we may soon plunge into a depression, despite Mr. Bernanke’s feverish cranking out of worthless dollars, which will drive our oil import needs to practically zip. But our foreign policy is focused on preserving US control of Persian Gulf oil, and all the bowing to sheiks that entails.

    Israel, meanwhile, is looking down the barrel of a nuclear gun while the US government is “finding itself”.

  6. In the long run, it always is more efficient to generate energy rather than digging it out of the ground. And dependence on something that must be dug out of the ground is an economic and geological relationship that must inevitably ride on getting and maintaining access to a continuously decreasing supply of substances that eventually degrade to unobtanium.

    Presently, an estimated 80-85 per cent of the world’s energy supplies comprise fossil fuels — petroleum, natural gas, coal, lignite, etc. In fact, the relatively graphical pictures of the explosive expansion of the world population in the past 110 year or so are all but coterminous in time and extent with those of the age of relatively plentiful and inexpensively obtainable petroleum and natural gas. But petroleum extraction in the USA peaked in 1969-1970 and is now in the process of peaking on a worldwide basis. As the world’s remaining petroleum resources become more scarce and more expensive to extract from the ground and process as useable fuels, greater calls are being made on the world’s natural gas supplies; thus, these supplies too shall peak not many decades later than the terminal dwindling of the world’s remaining petroleum supplies.

    Petroleum and natural gas from sources such as tar sands and shale must always be more expensive to access and costly to refine than petroleum such as found in the now dwindling fields of Saudi Arabia, such as al-Ghawar, where seawater is being pumped in to maintain pressure at the wellheads. Oil tar sands essentially are a variety of asphalt. Think of the difficulties of extracting 87 octane gasoline from asphalt. As for the shale oil and gas deposits of the western United States, my understanding is the shale must be heated to some 650 degrees Fahrenheit in order to extract a liquid fuel. I am not acquainted with the technical processes of releasing and recapturing commercially useable quantities of natural gas from shale, but I would expect it must be significantly more than getting it from naturally occurring pressurized pockets of gas in the ground.

    So what is to be done?

    Short of rapidly reducing the world’s population back to what it was around the year 1900, I know of no way likely to ease a coming crash in all the world’s economies as the fossil-based energy supplies are rapidly used up, all of which will come in this century.

    What the United States needs, and very soon, is reviving the country’s railway network into an electrified steel interstate system. This should start with the STRACNET, which is the US Department of Defense’s acronym for the approximate 36,000 miles of the strategically significant US railway network, plus some additional major routes with potential significance for freight and passenger carrying services. Alan S Drake, an engineer increasingly well-known in rail transportation planning circles, has suggested a countrywide rail system upgrade over some 10-15 years that would comprise the following:

    1) Double and triple tracking the main routes, combined with track straightening, elimination of grade crossing that train speed, and other right of way improvements.

    2) Electrification of all the upgraded rail routes, preferably catenary wire feeds and railcar-mounted pantagraphs.

    3) Use of the rail corridor rights of way for placement of high voltage power lines, lineal arrays of windmills to generate electric power. The erection of systems would be less expensive than elsewhere in that materials can easily be shipped onsite by rail, and railway crane cars can be put to work erecting towers of these types. The trains traveling in these revitalized rail corridors would be powered from small substations feeding off the high voltage grid.

    4) Introduction of 100-120 mph freight and passenger trains, which, while not as speedy as the news rail trains of China, Japan, France and Germany, should be fast enough to attract a substantial portion of the freight now carried on the concrete interstate highways by 18-wheel trucks, and in private automobiles and commercial air transports.

    It should be noted that not all of these improvements require cash handouts from or management by the US federal or state governments. Warren Buffet, one of the world’s richest investors, recently purchased the BNSF (Burlington Northern and Sante Fe) rail system, of the new giants of the consolidating US rail industry. I understand one of the intentions of his management is to electrify and generally improve the rights of way of BNSF’s entire system, possibly using as their model Russia’s recent electrification of the complete Moscow-Vladivostok Trans Siberian railway, which I think extends some 8500 miles or so.

    (Some Israpundit readers less than well acquainted with all the topics cited above may want to google up The Oil Drum, which is one of the best websites of world peak oil, and various sites dealing with transportation planning in general and railway modernization and electrification in particular.)

    Arnold Harris
    Mount Horeb WI