Much has been said and written during recent years about the need for developing alternative energy sources. Green energy, wind energy, solar energy, wave energy… Renewable energy sources, green jobs…
Ethanol from corn was the “be all, end all” answer to our transportation energy needs. Then we saw fish kills at the mouth of the Mississippi River due to over-fertilization of corn fields in the Midwest. We saw food prices escalate as crops were converted from food products to ethanol. Then we learned that more energy was consumed, including fossil fuels consumed to produce and harvest the corn, than the ethanol contained, making it a net consumer of energy.
Wind and solar farms to generate electricity are the new panacea. But according to the Department of Energy, renewable energy only provided about 5 ½ % of our energy requirements in 2008, and solar and wind only represented 2.2%. Furthermore, a 1000 megawatt fossil fuel generating plant requires fifteen acres of land, whereas a comparably sized wind farm requires forty thousand acres. That’s sixty square miles of land to generate the same amount of electricity as can be generated on fifteen acres. To replace the conventional generating capacity with wind farms would require about 62,500 square miles of land.
So ethanol is not a viable or efficient alternative for transportation fuel, and wind/solar is not a viable alternative for electrical generation, if only because of the land requirements. And the land required is not near the points of major consumption, so delivering the power from the necessarily rural generating locations to the urban points of consumption would present other challenges and expenses.
There is another alternative. There is a viable alternative. That alternative is natural gas.
Until recently, natural gas was thought to exist in modest amounts. But renewed exploration spurred by new extraction technology has “unearthed” far greater reserves than were previously estimated. According to The New York Times (yes, The New York Times),
“Estimated natural gas reserves rose to 2,074 trillion cubic feet in 2008, from 1,532 trillion cubic feet in 2006, when the last report was issued. This includes the proven reserves compiled by the Energy Department of 237 trillion cubic feet, as well as the sum of the nation’s probable, possible and speculative reserves.
The new estimates show “an exceptionally strong and optimistic gas supply picture for the nation,” according to a summary of the report, which is issued every two years by a group of academics and industry experts that is supported by the Colorado School of Mines.
Much of that jump comes from estimated gas in shale rocks, which drilling companies have only recently learned how to tap. They have developed a technique called hydraulic fracturing, in which water is injected at high pressure into wells to shatter rocks deep underground, helping to release trapped gas.”
Hydraulic fracturing has created a boom in natural gas activity in numerous areas of the country, and is a critical element of the economic recovery that is occurring in north Louisiana in the Haynesville Shale. Hydraulic fracturing, “fracking,” is making possible the availability of natural gas in abundance, and Louisiana is a key player in that market.
Of course, as with all viable energy sources and positive economic drivers, fracking is not without its opponents who claim that it is environmentally unsafe. The numerous fallacies of their arguments have been succinctly exposed at The Hayride previously and need not be repeated.
Natural gas is also a clean source of energy – environmentally safe to produce, and environmentally safe to use. It is the cleanest burning of all fossil fuels, and emits far fewer greenhouse gases (concern about which is another argument for another time. See numerous articles on Climategate.)
How natural gas would be an alternative to oil, coal, wind or solar sources of energy with which to generate electricity is almost intuitive, but we opened this discussion with the topic of ethanol as a transportation fuel. Might natural gas be a viable alternative there as well?
Absolutely! Conventional spark ignition (gasoline fueled) engines as well as compression ignition (diesel) engines can easily be converted to operate on compressed natural gas (CNG). A CNG fueled Honda Civic can be purchased at a Honda dealership today, and Europe is well on her way with an abundance of CNG vehicles.
And experience has shown that CNG vehicles run cleaner, perform comparably, and require less maintenance than do their conventionally fueled siblings.
Conversion of American vehicles is best started with large fleets, whether privately owned or municipal. Fleet delivery operators such as UPS or FedEx, and municipal fleets such as school buses or municipal transit buses, whose operations revolve around a central hub, can easily return to that hub for refueling. Such refueling centers can be built and operated by the fleet operator, or contracted to independent operators. Strategically located refueling centers across the state could make intrastate use of CNG vehicles possible.
That, too, is happening. Several CNG fueling centers exist in Baton Rouge. Others are being constructed in Shreveport, and soon will be constructed in Lafayette. Strategically located facilities on I-49 and I-20 are being considered that will effectively blanket the state. Once those are in place and other intermediate facilities are added, it will be entirely practical for individuals to take advantage of this clean, more affordable source of transportation energy, while contributing to the restoration of Louisiana’s economy and her rightful place as a leader in energizing the nation.
But what about safety?
Natural gas is actually less volatile than gasoline under standard conditions. Many who are reading this are sitting in homes which are supplied with hot water and tempered air by means of natural gas, and they retire every evening with several natural gas powered pilot lights burning in the attic without giving it a second thought.
Utilization of natural gas for energy production, and of CNG as a transportation fuel, needs to be encouraged within the state and national legislative branches. Natural gas is better for the economy, for the environment, and thus for Louisiana and the nation.
T. Boone Pickens has abandoned wind energy in favor of natural gas. Now you know why.