Liquids Pricey, Gas Cheap

April 22, 2011

Just a quickie today:

Doodle around Energy Tribune (published in Houston, Texas) and if you’re like me you’ll find yourself quickly convinced that shale gas is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

“Shale gas” is the natural gas that’s mixed into rocks that aren’t very porous.  It’s hard to get at because you have to “frack” (fracture) the underground rocks so that the gas can get to the pipe leading to the surface.  With 1980’s technology it had might as well be on Venus, even though there’s oodles of it.

Some of the chemicals used in fracking are poisonous, and if they get into the water table then That Would Be Bad.  But I’m also willing to believe that regulation can force the industry to find ever more bio-degradable alternatives.  We have bio-degradable packing peanuts, McDonalds wrappers and dish soap now, so why not fracking chemicals too.

So if this plays out the way it looks like it might, natural gas will stay reasonably cheap for the rest of our lifetimes in the USA, in Europe and in China.  Great.  Of course it’ll run out eventually, but not within the next 20-30-40 years.

Liquids may stay a different story, though.  Liquids soak through the rocks much more slowly than gases do, so even though there is such thing as “shale oil”, it might stay exotic, at least for now.  You can make liquids (low-sulfur diesel fuel) out of gas, but it’s expensive and one is better off converting process X to run on gas directly.

But gas, that’ll stay cheap.  It Will Be Gas.

What this is doing, for me anyway, is it’s turning my aspirations in different, more conventional directions.  Before I wanted to play Citizen Kane and Atlas Shrugged all at the same time and invent a whole “new” alternative way to run the planet.

Now, not so much.  Now, it’s more about:

  • converting industries (airlines, shipping, trains, trucks, plastics, etc) from oil to gas
  • converting personal transportation (cars, trains, motorcycles, micro-monorail personal rapid transport, etc) to electricity
  • using communication/internet tricks to squeeze tonnage and transportation out of the system (Skype, Gmail, Facetime, Amazon.com, Fedex, etc)
  • finding ways to re-structure culture and environments so that people don’t feel so compelled to consume energy and tonnage in order to feel like they have value

Maybe I’m just getting old, but a more evolutionary approach feels more natural to me anyhow.  This is the game as far as I can tell.

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