November 30, 2005
Cold Winter And Natural Gas Shortage Threaten Electric Blackouts
A cold winter threatens rolling blackouts of electricity, especially in New England.
From Maine to Florida, from Virginia to Missouri, as much as half the United States confronts the possibility that harshly cold weather will lead to restrictions of natural-gas supplies. In some places - areas heavily dependent on natural gas to produce electricity - the prospect of "rolling blackouts," or controlled power outages, is much higher than in previous winters.
Any natural-gas cutoffs would primarily affect electric-power plants and factories fueled by gas, not homes, and be most likely in the Northeast.
If cold deepens for prolonged periods, the likelihood of interrupted natural-gas supplies rises to 30 percent in the Northeast and to 10 percent as far south as Florida and as far west as Missouri, according to a recent report by the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), a trade association representing gas pipeline companies. In a "worst-case" scenario, chances of interrupted gas rise to 40 percent for the Northeast and 25 percent across the eastern seaboard.
Nuclear power anyone?
New England is more dependent on natural gas.
Overall, 23 percent of America's electricity-generating capacity is fueled by natural gas. In New England, however, fully 40 percent of electricity is drawn from natural-gas-fired power plants, up from just 17 percent in 1999.
Rolling blackouts would probably lessen opposition to liquified natural gas terminals for off-loading LNG ships. The United States has much higher natural gas prices than most of the world because US production is declining and we do not have enough LNG terminals.
The main energy choices for the future are coal and nuclear. Opposition to nuclear amounts to support for coal. In Britain the debate is now on for whether to re-open long closed coal mines. Many of Britain's nuclear power plants will close by the 2020s. Wind power can't make up for those losses combined with increased demand from economic growth. Hence Tony Blair keeps bringing up nuclear power in speeches. In the last month natural gas prices in Britain have more than quintupled.
On the face of it, this winter's rocketing gas prices look a simple problem with simple causes.
A drop in North Sea gas production combined with cold temperatures has led to prices soaring
since the start of the month, from about 30p a therm (a unit of energy) to a peak of just over
Britain's political debate on energy seems to be advancing faster than America's at the moment. They know they face a huge problem between aging nuclear plants, declining North Sea production, rising imports costs, political instability in the Middle East, and worries about greenhouse gas emissions. Check out this opinion piece for nuclear power by Henry Porter in the UK's Observer. That's a publication on the left side of the political spectrum over there.
I only wish a huge research push by government was part of their debate.
Why o why do you keep harping on .gov research pushes? It's the lowest return on the dollar/pound/[insert your currency] operation one can find.
As to NG stores this just in, emphasis, mine.... support your private, non.gov businessman!
Though it's been in production for nearly 25 years, a huge natural gas field in Texas is now drawing the attention of major energy companies – ***but only after independent operations proved its worth***.
Fort Worth, Texas, is built on top the Barnett Shale natural gas field, a field so vast that the U.S. Geological Service estimates it contains some 26 trillion cubic feet of yet-to-be-discovered natural gas. Estimates are that as much as 160 billion cubic feet of natural gas are in place per square mile in the Barnett Shale formation. The Barnett Shale field is the largest gas-producing field in Texas, covering some 15 counties in the northern part of the state. The core area comprises some 120,000 net acres that stretch north from Fort Worth to the western outskirts of Denton.
The field was undiscovered until 1981 when independent Mitchell Energy drilled the first well. The largest operator in the Barnett Shale field is Devon Energy Corporation, one of America's largest and most successful independent oil and natural gas companies, headquartered in Oklahoma City. In January 2002, Devon completed the acquisition of the field's pioneer, Mitchell Energy. Today, Devon operates more than 1,700 wells into the Barnet Shale core area, wells that today produce more than 550 million cubic feet of natural gas per day.
Time to fuel and start Shoreham.
Yep, nuclear power is gonna be able to save us from blackouts this winter and keep everyone cozy and warm for 2007 as well. Firing up Shoreham on Long Island is going to contribute a hell of a lot of help to the fuel oil and gas fired furnaces throughout northern NE, and all before January 1, 2006.
Drive more. Global warming will reduce heating bills.
Platts has a good short piece on the UK gas situation at http://www.platts.com/Natural%20Gas/Resources/News%20Features/ukgassupply/
I won't denigrate the Barnett Shale gas field nor those in other areas of the country. It
is important that we tap them and get busy in Alaska as well. But as big as the recoverable
gas finds might be they are small in comparison with our current annual consumption. Over
the long term we have to use more coal, nuclear and other indigenous energy sources or find
ourselves ever more dependant on third world/Islamic regimes that are hardly stable.
It is this need for imported oil, now running at some 10+ million barrels/day that is so
dangerous. As I drive about town ( for business purposes) I am dismayed at the amount of
casual driving being done for what is often frivolous and unnecessary reasons. It is those
housewives driving about in their SUVS that keep our troops in the Persian Gulf not any
geopolitical ambition of the current Administration.
This strategic imperative for energy has caused more than a few wars. Japan bombed Pearl
Harbor and swept into the Dutch East Indies and Burma not because it wanted to but because
it had no choice. To supply its industry and military forces in China it had to secure its
oil supplies. Germany launched its war on the USSR not just for "Lebensraum" but to gain
access to Caspian oil reserves. Whenever 'peak oil' arrives, and it may not be far off, the
need to secure oil supplies will once again create a global scramble for energy. We can
either join the scramble or develop our own sources.
Domestic natural gas production is going to continue to decline along with domestic oil production.
I support government-funded energy research because the alternative at the public policy level is to do nothing. We aren't going to get a high fossil fuels tax.
You have to ask yourself:
1) Do we have an energy problem?
2) What do you advocate doing about it?
What are your answers?
According to the CIA statistics, the U.S. uses 640 billion cubic feet of gas per year. The Barnett Shale field is estimated by the Fort Worth newspaper story to contain 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. This is good for about 40 years at current consumption rates. Like the oil shale and oil sand fields, I suspect that there are alot more of these fields in the U.S. and Canada. Remember, the oil shale and tar sand fields are the ones that happen to reach the surface and therefor were found by happenstance, much like coal. Like coal, noone has bothered to prospect for any of this stuff.
None the less, nuclear power is the way to go. The current issue of Scientific American (that left-wing sheet that does occasional science) has an excellent article on nuclear waste remediation and the integral fast reactor (also called the advanced fast reactor). I highly recommend it. The integral fast reactor resolves all of the open questions about nuclear waste and weapons proliferation. Both the Indians and Chinese are pursuing versions of the integral fast reactor, as are the Japanese. It is only a matter of time before this becomes the preferred method of electrical generation.
Kurt is being right that lot of big fossil fuel fields are waiting discovering. Harder to find is not always being the same as harder to recover. Soft landing from peaking oil and peaking gas is making easier for finding other source. Economics is being so hard for doom and gloom to reconcile. Too hard for doomies.
The CIA factbook is measuring gas in cubic METERS, not feet. US consumption is more on the order of 23 TRILLION cubic feet. This makes the Barnett Shale field on the order of 1 year of consumption, even with optimistic assumptions. (In cases like this, it's helpful to develop a quantitative general sense of the situation, so you can sense when something's out of whack.)
I believe there is general consensus that NG has peaked in the US, and is declining relatively rapidly.
US gas reserve is being over 1.5 thousand trillion cubic meter. That is old number not counting new discovery. US not dependent only on domestic production, only 80% in gas consumed is domestic. US have over 70 year gas reserve at currently domestic consumption portion. New field like Barnett and many more are adding incremental to total. This is points to being soft landing if more alternatives and conservation mandatory from economic tradeoff.
Sorry, that is being US reserve of approx. 1.5 thousand trillion cubic foot, not meter. Ho, ho, that is being too optimistic, no? Still if domestic consumbtion being 23 trillion cubic foot, still several decade of supply. Economic of supply and demand is forcing alternative and conservation much sooner. Never run out of gas. Never running out of oil. Is being economics forcing alternative before running out, much before.
We must also realize that the reason Europe can still afford to import oil at these higher prices is because the United States has a huge trade deficit with the world, Europe included. In 2004 the US trade deficit
with Estern Europe was $114 billion as shown in this web page:
If the United States becomes unable to subsidize the world with such high trade deficit, Europe will be in deep trouble. It will be a matter of life or death to start build a new generation of nuclear plants using fast-neutron breeding cycles which can gain a 100-fold fuel efficiency by burning even the nonfissile uranium that becomes nuclear waste..
Do "we" have an energy problem?
What do you advocate doing about it?
As to "public policy", let's be honest. What you referring to is govt. regulation and arbitrary fiat. The question should be rephrased: "What freedoms should the govt. remove from individuals? What extra powers and rights to interfere with private property should the govt. award itself?"
The proper approach is reduce and eliminate tax. Enforce a separation of govt. and economy. Leave individual people to determine what their preferences are and make their own choices.
I have been toying with an idea to quickly bring new nuclear power stations on line. Basically you substitute a nuclear reactor for the solar cells in the Solar Space Power concept with a twist. Use a nuclear rocket to lift the rectenna into orbit then park the rocket and use its reactor to power the microwave beams. Of course you still have to find a site for the Earth side rectenna, there will be complaints about the nuclear rocket and getting the frequencies for beaming power will have to be worked.
The use of nuclear reactors in orbit would ease problems with getting a site approved, reduce the possibility of nuclear material falling into the wrong hands and once you decide to decommission the reactor boost it into deep space.
Continuing on the plus side the nuclear rockets would be paid for by the power companies. With only recurring costs to cover nuclear rockets should be able to provide a very low cost method for lifting heavy cargo into space. Lunar colony, anyone?
Replacing the solar cells with nuclear power radically reduces costs. By scribblings indicate that the system could produce electricity on Earth at a rate comparable to crent rates. The ROI also seems very favorable.
We overbuilt our electrical systems in the 70's and 80's expecting huge increases in demand that didn't come right away. So politicians have had a window where they can not make anyone mad by just doing nothing. Now they are rapidly running out of time. And some places have already experiened brown outs and even black outs during peak load times.
And we have to start moving in building something today. Or either have constant rotating black outs or dramatic increases in the price of electricity until demand destruction happens. But as we saw in California electricity is so valuable to people you would probably need to raise the price by something like 20 times what it is now, before you had significant demand destruction.
And then our industries would be dead on arrival trying to compete with foreign companies. Including the so called environmentally friendly 'new economy' companies. Which with their server farms are huge energy hogs. And we will see companies like biotech become increasingly based on supercomputers and thus high power bills.
As Randall said the choice is either coal or nuclear. If you are against nuclear you are pro-coal. Or you beleive in halting all progress. For example imagine if we were at the edge of the power production at the start of the personal computer revolution. If we were unwilling to increase production, we would have to forego pc's, the internet and so on, including all the productivity gains they are giving.
I stand corrected. You are right. We have 3 choices:
3) Higher prices.
Okay everyone, which option do you prefer?
Spoken like a true libertarian.
But what about external costs that do not show up in market prices?
I agree with AA2 that the sense of urgency is lacking amongst the Washington political
elite. As a note aside, listening to the clowns who form our Congress one can almost wish
that the 9/11 terrorists had succeeded in crashing one of those aircraft into the US
Capitol, preferably the Senate side.
The CEO of Syntroleum, admittedly not a impartial source, testified last month before the
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on the use of gas to liquids technology as
a petroleum substitute. Mr. Holems, the CEO, noted that if just 5% of America's 270 billion
tons of recoverable coal reserves were converted to synthetic petroleum it would double the
29 billion barrels of proven oil reserves in the US. Put another way it would reduce our
need for imported petroleum by 5-6 million barrels per day!
Mr. Holmes isn't some crackpot trying to sell an unproven or unworkable technology either.
Syntroleum has a pilot plant in operation in Tulsa and another partially funded by the
Department of Energy in Port of Catoosa, Oklahoma. He was appearing before the Senate to
urge passage of the Gas Price Act of 2005. This bill would have fast tracked synthetic
fuel production by providing $1.5 billion in loan guarantees for two commercial plants
producing coal to liquid fuels. Alas it stalled in committee on a 9 to 9 vote. BTW I am not
in anyway connected with Syntroleum but merely want to end the insane reliance on Saudi,
Venezuelan and other tyrannies for our fuel supplies.
These same Senators who can see no value in attempting to convert our abundant reserves of
coal into ultra clean motor fuels by merely providing $1.5 billion in loan guarantees see
no problem whatsoever with passing mammoth pork barrel spending projects that build roads
to nowhere, light rail and bus service no one wants to ride and airport expansion at fields
our bankrupt airlines will not use.
NB: I did some reading and found that Shoreham has been dismantled.
Hugh: Meeting US motor fuel demand by coal liquefaction would mean huge increases in mining - 160% by my calculation. The problem is the inefficiency of the gasoline engine. We're much better off going coal -> electricity -> batteries.
You fail to consider the "externalities" of huge govt. and its associated boondoggles. The extreme costs and burdens of govt. activity, overheads, tax, regulation, make-work, scams of all sorts, special interests and privileges, hand-outs, wars on _________(fill in latest trendy war target- drugs, homelessness, illiteracy, poverty, terror, teenage sex etc. etc., lost causes all), violence, arbitrary prohibitions, irrational promotions, bribes, murders, subsidies, frauds, pork, wastes of resource, opportunity costs etc. are needless destructions of wealth and denial of precious freedoms. Why add to the burden? Why enslave yet more?
The promotion of big govt. funded research projects assumes individuals (and their activities in a market or economy) are imperfect, irrational, necessarily immoral and impotent while simultaneously assuming that big govt. is perfect, efficacious, efficient and moral. Your assumption is that the govt. can (and should) solve the problems of an imperfect world. This is erroneous. To successfully undertake such tasks a govt. would have to be omnipotent, omniscient and all good (moral)! In other words, a god! Naive indeed.
What is really occurring here is you do not trust other people (the market) to act in the manner that YOU personally would like them to. Therefore you want individuals in the market FORCED to behave as you desire. Since you can't achieve this on your own time and resource you must rely on an entity which possesses the power to coerce and force. Hence support for the big govt. project. Of course a major problem is that even should your best lobbyist efforts result in billions more spent on research, you do not control or influence how the money is actually consumed, what regulations are imposed and what the real outcomes would actually be (disaster). All that you can be certain of is that govt. necessarily would sequester the resources from individual people leaving them worse off, less free and less wealthy.
Have you ever considered the opportunity costs of govt. distortions in the economy? That's not some imaginary or potential "externality". That's something real which exists right now, in today's world.
What is far better is for the price of energy to directly reflect the preferences of individuals who are in the market to purchase and sell the stuff. If demand grows faster than supply the price eventually will rise. The rise in price will signal consumers to economise or seek alternative energy sources. The rise in price will signal investors and producers to develop alternative sources and supplies. Some may succeed in attracting sufficient customers to sustain their activity, some will fail to do so. Same goes in relation to so-called global warming. If demand for alternatives increases (if people decide they are against the generation of CO2) then that will provide profitable incentives, an opportunity, for suppliers of non-CO2 generating energy technologies. That's called a participatory democracy. It is about what individual people actually want. It is completely different to the national socialist model you have been promoting.
As regards "so-called global warming": Burning coal produces other externalities as well. Mercury pollution for example. Particulates pollution as well. But those fine upstanding capitalists in the coal industry manage to use their money in politics to prevent government from interfering with their polluting.
But CO2 pollution certainly is going to produce external costs, not just "so-called" costs. Libertarian ideologues tend to deny external costs because they want less government. Well, I want less government in a number of areas. But I think denying reality is not going to get us there. All it does is make reality acceptors think you are loony.
Yes, governments impose costs that are violations of property rights and other rights.
I'm promoting national socialism? How absurd. I just think the market has some serious flaws:
1) External costs such as pollution.
2) Limits to the ability to protect and handle transactions for intellectual property. Science can't get funded mujch by the market because most scientific information can't be made into intellectual property. Therefore scientific research is underfunded by the market.
The market does many things wonderfully. But it has serious flaws as well. I do not have religious faith in the market. I lost my faith in liberatianism and Objectivism. You appear to still have faith.
Hugh - I have also thought if the terrorists managed to hit congress, the terrorists would almost be national heroes.
I didn't even think about the US coal reserves for oil. In recent times South Africa under sanctions produced oil from coal so it is definately do-able.
In addition the US has vast deposits of shale oil. From the sources I have seen multiple times Saudi Arabia's oil reserves. Yet it is on government land, as 84% of America is owned by the various levels of government. No politician will support going after it. But the Canadians, which I am a Canadian btw, are going after the tar sands.
Sione I am a libertarian as well. I am actually writing an article/paper on how you would move to a real competitive energy business. And it is so obvious what would have to happen is to absolutely smash the current labyrinth of regulations.
I am thinking that if the IAEA approves a nuclear plant design, and the company owns the land it can build the nuke plant and sell into the grid. End of story. But to show how far away we are from that, actually most land is owned by the government itself, and there is sometimes 50 government agencies regulating anything on private land.
An example I found for my article is the Koreans just built three 1 gigawatt reactors for 2 billion each. But in the 90's Canada's last plant that was finished cost an astonishing 14 billion dollars. And was a smaller capacity plant. The difference was the incredible amount of regulations put in place in Canada.
Ultimately it is easy to project that if the Koreans keep making cheap and powerful plants, and we make expensive and few plants all manufacturing and probably other sections of the economy will need to be moved there.
You failed to address the topic again. Try to answer the questions you were set. Or at least consider them!
That's definitely national socialism you are promoting. Look it up. It's a socialist system where the govt. controls private property but the citizens are permitted to remain the "owners" in name. As is usual for this variant of socialism a core theme is a great mission to save the country (or the people or the race or whatever) through big national undertakings. In your case you want to do it through mega-research projects.
You fail to acknowledge that as the research infrastructure and related organisations are created (through expropriated resources) you will next require people be FORCED to use the "products" of those outfits; good, bad, expensive, cheap, complex, simple, indifferent, suited to the task at hand or not. Once all this research funding gets started it will be an unending on-going overhead that must be maintained for year upon year. Special interests and govt. cronies will see to that. That's the REAL nature of govt.
Contrary to your superficial treatment of the topic (as is usual) the market certainly will deal with issues. Expressions of individual preference in the market do include evaluation of your so-called externalities. The market and the resulting action is a result of the sum of millions, probably billions, of individual evaluations and transactions. It is about what it is individuals decide THEY value and what THEY want to do. Your objection is that YOU do not control how this process occurs or what choices other people make. Your central flaws include a selfish lust to have your dreams satiated regardless of the cost or emburdenment of other people. You have no regard for the overheads and opportunity costs you expect to have applied against others. This really is unethical. It about puts you on the level of a receiver of stolen goods or the man shouting encouragement to a band of pack-rapists. I have far more respect for individual sovereignty that that.
As far as mercury emissions & particulates are concerned, you commented that govt. allows this to occur. Need I remind you this is exactly the sort of flaw that is to be expected from the national socialist model you propose. In your example you did identify the fact that govt. allows its cronies to behave as they do. They get special privileges. Note that your govt. also prevents anyone whose property or person may be directly damaged (assuming that such damage does in fact occur) from seeking remedy or repair. That is cronyism and certainly is not Capitalist (were you really familiar with Libertarianism or Objectivism or the Austrian School etc. you would know the meaning of the term Capitalism- your use demonstrates your understanding to be both socialist and superficial- yet again).
Given that much science research in the USA has long been all but nationalised, it is indeed difficult to raise investment interest in certain technology areas. This is not a market "flaw" but a direct response to the nature of the distortions introduced into the field of research by your govt. Once govt. is involved risks, problems, delays & costs increase exponentially. It's one thing undertaking research (an industry I am involved in) and completely the opposite dealing with the irrationalities of govt. flunkies and their arbitrary regulations and rulings. Investors live in fear of having their interests in a technology destroyed by regulation/govt. fiat/legislation etc. This happens with regularity as some crony or other arranges some "deal" with the political class.
Randall, your entire position is based on the premise that markets are "flawed" and individual choices/preferences are not to be trusted. Therefore you posit that govt. should be trusted and should force the market (that is, force individual people) to do what YOU demand.
Understand govt. is not superior, perfect and trustworthy. Recent history shows this clearly. Your misplaced faith is naive and dangerous; just another cargo-cult believer who thinks the govt. (your god) will save all from the "flaws" of their own lives.
Sounds very interesting to me. Trouble is that there are those who want to erect yet more regulations, burdens, taxes, central planning, arbitrary regimes and the like. Boondoggles all!
You are correct to expect more and more manufacturing going to Asia. I note the local mines around here sell most of their mineral product to China and other Asian countries. The Chinese like to sign up twenty or thirty year supply agreements, so no-one else gets a look in. They are playing the long game. In some aspects they have more freedoms than do people in the US.
If things continue as they are the Pacific could become the Chinese ocean. THE significant event will be when Taiwan becomes part of China again. That will be the day the new superpower will start to seriously assert itself throughout the region (and in the early stages they'll likely make a mess of it!). The US will be powerless to intervene. I'm hoping the Chinese remain dormant militarily and do not get tempted into expensive military adventures (like Iraq).
Recently an integral fast reactor design was mentioned (by Kurt). Have you heard of this development? How does it operate?
The Asians are really impressing me. They have the state, but atm still manage to get things built that need to be done. And are pro-business. Just think about how the US government goes after its own companies, can you even imagine the Japanese government going after Toyota?
Is the integral fast reactor the breeder, I will have to look it up. If so the only problem really with breeders is increased cost, and since uranium is so cheap there isn't any incentive to build it, beyond experimental stage. But in the future our uranium stockpiles will become major power reserves.
Btw how would you regulate power production and pollution. Even assuming the regulator is private.
The key feature of a Fast Breader Reactor is that it uses a liquid metal coolant. The most common of these has been liquid sodium (but mercury, and lead, have also been used).
The liquid metal is then used to boil water to make steam for a conventional steam plant.
1) The reactor does not have to be a pressure vessel as it can operate at atmosphereic pressure (only needing to support the weight of the fuel and coolant).
2) The reactor can (theoretically) be used to burn up most of the worst waste from nuclear reactor fuel. I am not sure anyone has actually built a successfull large reactor to do this yet. The French tried and it did not work well (on I believe a 500 - 1000 MW electric plant).
3) The reactor can in fact generate more fuel than it started with from readily available uranium and thorium. This assumes that the fuel is reprocessed.
1) Coolant Pumping cost are very high for liquid metal which reduces plant efficiency.
2) Most liquid metals used to date have issues: Sodium violantly reacts with water (that is an understatement!) and a liquid sodium to water leak creats massive problems (I believe that there are are actually 2 examples of this in reactor history - and I do not belive that those plants ever ran again). Mercury and lead have "poisionous" vapor and issues when hot and have personal safety handling issues even at room temperature. These are all issues for baseload power plant that are expected to reliably run for 40 to 60 years. I do understand that other low melting alloys are being investigated to reduce these issues.
3) Enrichment level of the fuel needed to start the reactor is very high and costly to make.
4) Reprocessing is a must, and adequte controls over the reprocessing plant will be needed to avoid significant pollution (No one has really made reprocessing that clean yet; and other countris often solve their pollution problems by diluting the products into a river or other things so that they can dump it).
All that being said: I believe that in the next 20 - 30 years someone will actually figure out how to build a large plant (500 MW electric +) that does what it is susposed to in a safe and reliable manner. India is focusing on this technology due to their huge amount of thorium deposits.