I've done work for T. Boone Pickens and the Pickens Plan since 2008. I wanted to mention this at the top because we're going to be discussing natural gas.
Don't…don't go on your next email yet, this is actually pretty interesting. New data from the Environmental Protection Agency indicates that drilling for natural gas releases significantly less methane (the main component of natural gas) into the atmosphere than previously thought.
Twenty percent less.
This is not seen as good news for the ultra-environmentalists who fervently believe that any fuel made from fossilized plant or animal matter (coal or natural gas) is bad.
Using natural gas as a transportation fuel (especially for heavy-duty trucks, like 18-wheelers) or for the production of electricity dramatically cuts down on greenhouse gasses from burning diesel or coal, but it doesn't cut them to zero.
At one time - "one time" meaning from the year zero to 2009 - the amount of natural gas that America had available was limited. So limited that the chemical and pharmaceutical industry were worried that using it for anything else, like as a transportation fuel or to generate electricity, was a foolish use of a limited resource.
Since the middle of the last century a group called the Potential Gas Committee, that has a connection to the Colorado School of Mines, has issued a biennial report on how much natural gas is available for development in the United States.
Until the 2009 report the PGC's estimates were largely focused on "traditional" natural gas wells. In 2009 the PGC began reporting the amount of natural gas that is available from the huge shale deposits under the continental United States.
In 2007 the PGC reported available reserves as 1,321 trillion cubic feet. In the 2009 report, reserves jumped to 1,836 Tcf - an increase of almost 39 percent.
The conventional wisdom of the time suggested that represented a 100 year supply.
As better geology and drilling techniques have been developed, this year's report suggests reserves of 2,384 trillion cubic feet - another 30 percent bump in the amount of natural gas available under the United States. If the 2009 report represented a 100 year supply, we now have natural gas reserves of more that should last more than 130 years.
We have more energy stored in our natural gas reserves than Saudi Arabia has in its oil.
One of the issues with producing all that natural gas is the amount of methane that is released into the air at the well-head. People who want only battery-operated vehicles (recharged with electricity that is produced solely from non-fossil sources), or hydrogen fuel cells have used this free methane as one of their arguments against using natural gas as a replacement for diesel that is largely made from imported oil.
Oil has a minor role in the production of electricity. According to AP reporter Kevin Bego,
"Since power plants that burn natural gas emit about half the amount of the greenhouse gases as coal-fired power, some say that the gas drilling boom has helped the U.S. become the only major industrialized country to significantly reduce greenhouse emissions."
Better mechanical techniques will continue to decrease the amount of methane released into the atmosphere even with more natural gas being recovered.
The EPA reported that 145 million metric tons of methane was released by natural gas drilling in 2011.
The next largest factor? "Enteric fermentation," accounts for another 137 million metric tons of methane released by cows when they…well, when cows are being cows. There is nothing to suggest that cows will become more efficient.
A recent New York Times article recently found that major shippers like UPS are moving away from imported diesel to domestic natural gas. Natural gas is cheaper than diesel, it is about 30 percent cleaner, and it is ours.