Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Natural Gas Boom We Can't Talk About

One of the more disturbing trends is the way we increasingly replace wishes and dreams for material facts and put more and more subjects behind a wall of political correctness. The result is that many resources are wasted and real opportunities lost.

Burgh Diaspora, had a good post pointing out the epic energy boom emerging in Natural Gas, centered in Western PA. An energy conference dealing with Western Pa, Marcellus Shale issues, expected to draw a few hundred already has more than 1,300 reservations and had to be moved to The Convention Center.

A Times article shows the wider opportunity. Not only are new gas reserves being opened up in the region, but because a lot of the first drilling was done here, people are traveling from all over the world to learn.

"Shale is a sedimentary rock rich in organic material that is found in many parts of the world. It was of little use as a source of gas until about a decade ago, when American companies developed new techniques to fracture the rock and drill horizontally.

Because so little drilling has been done in shale fields outside of the United States and Canada, gas analysts have made a wide array of estimates for how much shale gas could be tapped globally. Even the most conservative estimates are enormous, projecting at least a 20 percent increase in the world’s known reserves of natural gas.

One recent study by IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates, a consulting group, calculated that the recoverable shale gas outside of North America could turn out to be equivalent to 211 years’ worth of natural gas consumption in the United States at the present level of demand, and maybe as much as 690 years. The low figure would represent a 50 percent increase in the world’s known gas reserves, and the high figure, a 160 percent increase."

To people following this, there's got to be a lesson about how markets and incentives work. Literally, two or theree years back it was looking like we were tapped out of known gas reserves in America. But a few years of higher prices got more and more people to try apply new technologies to formerly mature fields.

In fact, the term "reserve" is pretty deceptive since it's very much based on price. If oil drops to 10 dollars a barrel and stays there a few years, companies start considering fields that cost more than $10 per barrel to drill, non economical.

Anyway, it's still way too early to estimate what the opportunity or the potentialy negative effects of all this may be. All I'm saying is we should be open to talking about it. It's clear that companies and investors who should know about these things are placing big bets.

I'm reminded of the way new drugs that have been used by a small sample of people are almost always pitched as having fewer side effects. Very, very few energy technologies have no side effects and comparing real viable prospects with imaginary green fantasy products isn't likely to be helpful.

No comments: