Is Natural Gas the Segway Away From The U.S. Oil Dependence?

by Engineer Of Knowledge

The natural gas industry’s drilling into the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania and neighboring states along the Appalachian Mountains are at the forefront of many conversations in the state and the country today.  With drilling supporter Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett calling for the commonwealth to become the “Texas of the Marcellus Shale boom” and a GOP legislature, the industry has political support in Harrisburg secured.

The natural gas boom is already underway in the 400 million year old Marcellus shale reserves beneath Pennsylvania.  That boom is apparent on a hilltop about an hour from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where the farmland and forest give way to a brand new industrial site known as the Lathrop compressor station. It’s a collection of pipes and compressors that help move natural gas from local wells to market.  The Manager for Williams Companies Inc., Michael Dickinson, has stated, “There are about 75 wells behind this particular station, and plans to double that over the next couple of years.”  The company operates two compressor stations in Pennsylvania, with plans to add three more. It’s also building a new 30-mile stretch of pipeline to transport natural gas on to Philadelphia and New York City.  Dickinson has given the comparison of, “Those pipelines are kind of like the railroads are to the coal industry, or the high line wires are to the electricity industry.” “We have to have those pipelines, that infrastructure, to get this gas to the place that it can be used.”

As far as the technology, I would favor natural gas electric generation over coal generation or nuclear power generation.  Energy experts say the accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan will likely put the brakes on plans for additional nuclear power plants, at least in the short run.

Natural gas is relatively clean and cheap to burn while environmental regulations in the U.S. make new coal plants unlikely.  Even though I am an advocate for renewable power sources like solar and wind but they are just not ready to satisfy the current demand for electricity.  So I predict the accelerated development of natural gas in Pennsylvania, as the future source of energy in the U.S.

At this point we need to take into consideration the questions that continue to be raised about the impact on the environment,  especially water.  Today there are uncomfortable questions coming to light by those investigative reporting on fracking the Marcellus Shale.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is embarking on a new review of the impacts from the industry on local water supplies and spill concerns.

Here in lies the problem.  The Marcellus shale runs from Kentucky to upstate New York, and contains one of the largest natural gas reserves in the world, although the gas has been difficult to extract until recently.  In order to get natural gas out of the Marcellus shale, drillers have to use a process known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking.  This technology produces lots of wastewater, which critics fear will contaminate drinking water supplies.

Those concerns got a lot of attention in the movie, “Gasland,” director Josh Fox’s Oscar-nominated documentary. The natural gas industry and state regulators denounced the film as misleading and one-sided. But those who study the industry say you can’t dismiss its claims entirely as there have been some environmental incidents.  Noted mass kills of aquatic wildlife have been attributive to the waste by products being forced to the surface and the cracking of the rock have allows this waste to be pushed to the surface.  The Gas Industry says they can plug these holes when they occur but we are talking about holes looking more like Swiss Cheese instead of a single hole.  So again I ask at what true cost is this technology really going to cost if it is done correctly for the health of the people and environment.  What we need to do is make sure we do have the proper regulations in place, make sure the companies are using the best available technologies.

For now, regulators in New York have put a moratorium on new gas wells while they study the environmental impact. In Pennsylvania, Corbett created a commission to explore whether new regulations are necessary. The group will report back to him this summer.  But Pennsylvania regulators may have to work fast, because no one expects the natural gas industry to wait.

In conclusion I ask, “What is the true cost to responsibly extract this gas energy source and in this current economic atmosphere how much will we accept the negative health and environmental aspects to overlook this technology for the sake of jobs?”

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33 thoughts on “Is Natural Gas the Segway Away From The U.S. Oil Dependence?

  1. HELLO…..I have to remember how many times my comments have endorsed
    the move to natural gas as a significant energy component. I remember
    numerous negative comments over like the last couple of years. Perhaps my most recent comment, M_R, was a couple of months ago about the
    construction of a pipe line from PA, thru Oh, coming up thru the Toledo area, and into MI, terminating, I believe, at Port Huron, for export to Canada, who
    already is a big user of natural gas. Canda is importing our natural gas for cheaper energy, and the United States is importing their oil for our energy
    use. Something has been wrong with this picture for some time!
    Of course, I share the concerns about environment. Yet, we need to accept
    permissable risks to break our being held hostage by OPEC and our national
    debt.
    Besides the mentioning of water pollution, I have heard about another issue.
    The process of extracting natural gas seems to involve the release of methane
    gases, highly volitile…Believe I have heard this could potentially create a
    methane cloud, which could ignite and cause widespread destruction…Have you any information on methane release?

  2. Hello Uptheflag,
    You and I have had many good conversations on this subject and I do value your thoughts and input on this subject.

    I have only touched on the down side of this technology and the potential release of a methane cloud is one of those concerns. “Murphy’s Law,” will at one time be applied here and it has even been reported of people having their well water pipes exploding right in their yards.

    But we as a nation could be energy independent for a long time developing and converting our energy needs to natural gas. We have twice the natural gas reserves than Saudi Arabia has in oil reserves.

    My posting does not imply I have the answers to this complicated question but only to implore intelligent debate on the subject.

  3. Hello Laci,
    That is the “Catch 22,” isn’t it? Fracking does cause a lot of serious environment issues. (As far as roughnecks…I have known several steel workers and miners as I was growing up as a child. My father was from this region. The roughnecks would fit right in. :-)

    Thanks for posting the information link. Good work as always my friend.

    I am sure you can get complaints from not only Pennsylvania but all over the country where the Natural Gas Industry is using the fracking technology.

    Among the many dubious provisions in the 2005 energy bill was one dubbed the “Halliburton Loophole,” which was inserted at the behest of then Vice President Dick Cheney, the former chief executive of Halliburton.

    This 2005 energy bill stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of its authority to regulate a drilling process called hydraulic fracturing. Invented by Halliburton in the 1940s, it involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals, some of them toxic, into underground rock formations to blast them open and release natural gas. Hydraulic fracturing has been implicated in a growing number of water pollution cases across the country but the loophole keeps the toxic chemicals used in the process being divulged so it is hard, if not impossible, to prove Halliburton or any natural gas company drilling for gas as the source of the pollution. This issue has become especially controversial in New York, where regulators are eager to clear the way for drilling in the New York City watershed, potentially imperiling the city’s water supply.

    I am also sure the powers to be from local County Commissioners to Senate and Congress….and even the President of the United States, will support the developing of the natural gas industry in this country.

  4. Tonight’s 60 minutes had a major segment on fracking. Fracking is exempt from oversight, from regulation, and from disclosure of any of the details of the chemicals involved. It appears to be genuinely dangerous to our water supplies, which it appears cannot be effectively cleaned up after fracking. Given the urban populations in most of the areas where fracking is taking place, this could kill a helluva lot of people. It isn’t worth the risk, not while the Bush white house has prevented any transparency or accountability for the practice.

  5. A further thought…….if fracking is so damn safe, why no accountability, why no regulation, why all the damn secrecy? Nothing good has ever come from that kind of immunity to regulation, or that kind of secrecy.

    NOTHING. And when was the last time you found an assurance by an energy company to be worth spit? HOW often have we been lied to? Pretty much always……or have you already forgotten the Deepwater Horizon? If you have forgotten, you might want to take a refresher look at the yellowstone river oil spill.

    The oil and gas industry are not different from each other in respect to their lying.

  6. So, what do you suggest the country does about its energy needs and its part
    in the national debt, and the cause of many of our future interventions in
    the Middle East, Dog Gone? We can’t continue the way we are, and there
    is no way all other alternative energies will be available for a good 30 years.
    As EOK says, we have abundant natural gas. My point is that we need to use
    that immediately for our ground transportation…Start with federal, state, and
    local vehicles and then move to our personal vehicles. I believe that resource
    availability is there now. As to our own vehicle supply, it can easily come from
    our own home…We have a natural gas outlet in our garage and fill up as
    needed. To get the ball rolling, “all” Obama needs to do is to issue an
    executive order thaat all federal cars, trucks, and buses run on natural gas.

    1. We can do a lot more to advance renewable fuel sources.

      The U of MN has developed a kind of algae that solves two problems that are expensive to the U.S. economy. The stuff purifies waste water, which otherwise is an expensive sewage treatment expense, and as a byproduct creates a biodiesel fuel in quantity.

      Human waste and waste water is the ultimate in renewable resources, so to speak. Clean water is a pressing need for all of us. And it is an effective bio fuel besides. I call that an elegant solution, and a helluva lot safer than fracking.

      The risks of fracking don’t offset the benefits. If we must use natural gas, then let’s leave it where it is until we can develop a safer way to get at it.

  7. The US is long overdue for getting over its oil addiction. Other countries such as Brazil and New Zealand have been using alternative fuels for a while. Since the 1973 Arab oil embargo, the Brazilians have invested massively in their sugar-based ethanol industry and created a fleet of vehicles that can run on the resulting fuel. According to the Sugar Cane Industry Union (Unica), 90 percent of the new cars sold this year in Brazil will be flexible-fuel vehicles that cost an extra $100 to make but can run on any combination of gasoline and ethanol.

    During the 1970s and 1980s, CNG was commonly used in New Zealand in the wake of the oil crises, but fell into decline after petrol prices receded. At the peak of natural gas use, 10 percent of New Zealand’s cars were converted, around 110,000 vehicles. Additionally, Australia is exploring the option of using CNG.

    Of course, petroleum is a harder accition to break than heroin or tobacco.

  8. Very good comments gentlemen. Good logical points being brought up and all are true and worth the mentioning.

    I have no respect for the energy industry as Dog Gone has pointed out so well with the examples but on the other hand, a country’s economic engine runs on some type of energy. I am well aware of the bio-fuels that Dog Gone has mentioned but is it ready to go into production on the scale we are talking about and requiring. Because it is based on algae growth it does fall under a solar energy tab.

    How big is the area required and in what locations would the algae ponds be located to meet the current demands of the nation.

    As Uptheflag and I have spoken of in the past, the Pennsylvania area is a rich area. The wealth of natural resources of the Appalachian Mountains has been a curse more so than a blessing for the people living in this area. Clear cut logging in the late 1800’s causing erosion of the land with the vast wealth going to the “Robber Barons” of the time generating a few low paying jobs for the locals or the economic enslavement by the coal industry, “King Coal,” in the early 1900’s all the way into the 1950’s of those non-union miners.

    Today the current strip mining is damaging the drinking water aquifer along with the property values of those owning homes in these areas returning only a few economic benefits for the local economy.
    Now once again the health concerns of those living in the area where fracking the earth’s crust will only devalue the homes they live in and long term health of their families and once again the vast wealth will go to someone else.

    History has taught us that outside interests have always reaped the vast wealth of the Appalachian Mountains and it will be those living there with their families and homes will suffer the long term consequences. I am afraid that this area will once again suffer the economic “Stinky End Of The Stick.”

  9. Hello Laci,
    Good point and one that hits home with me. My father was born in August 1921. My grandfather, being a union coal miner, supported those fighting for their basic human rights and the health of their families in Logan County. Of course unions are bad for the U.S. today if you listen to conservative talk shows today.

    It was just a few years earlier in the Monongahela Mine No. 6, Fairmont, (W.Va.) explosion killed between 300 and 400 men in a mine explosion. They were lining up the caskets along Main Street because they had run out of room in the funeral homes of the area. During this time the mine workers had a better chance living through the trench warfare of WWI Europe than working in those mines. Not an exaggeration, but statically factual.

    That was then, this is today. I don’t think people have that kind of will today to throw off the shackles of corporate influences. They would rather just wring their hands with worry hoping they will just go away. When they die from being poisoned by there own water wells, people will just say, “Isn’t ashame.”

  10. Sugar ethanol is much more efficient to produce than our corn based ethanol.

    I wonder if we might find some similar technology with the byproducts waste of our sugar beet industry?

    Getting away from fossile fuels entirely, and relying at most on fossile products for lubricants, makes the most sense to me.

  11. It is my understanding that the algae is fast growing, and could be easily introduced into sewage treatment plants all over this country (regardless of climate – remember, this was developed in MN; if it can grow here, in our winter climate, and our summer heat extremes, it can grow anywhere.

    I know a bit less about the details of the bio diesel process, but Imy impression is that is a relatively simple process, that can and should be able to produce in quantity relatively easily. What I don’t know off the top of my head is what the storage limitations might be for the bio diesel, if any.

    I do know that there is at least one French airline that is now flying on used cooking oil though.

    1. It would be nice if it were easier to recycle household amounts of cooking oil. One can take it to a local restauarant, but iti is easier to have it picked up.

  12. I am astounded at the great conversation here on a topic that is of utmost importance to the economic well-being of this nation. Sadly, this type of conversation seldom happens in the halls of Congress nor at the White House.

    It is not a difficult topic because much research has already been done. Rather, it’s the politics that stands in the way. That is why this nation languishes far behind other nations who can see problems and solutions more clearly. Sadly, I see more, not less of the same in future years. We will still be arguing as the nation implodes into a self-made black hole.

    For these reasons, I have become less and less interested in discussing politics; it’s a ruse, plain and simple.

    T. Boone Pickens [former oil executive] was on MSNBC this morning and lamented the fact that his plan of getting America off of oil [especially OPEC oil] cannot get traction in Congress. He’s been touring the country giving lectures and seminars in an attempt to educate The People on the need to move away from oil to natural gas, solar, wind and renewable energy sources. Yet, with all of his prestige and money, he can’t budge the politicians in Washington. How sad. Not only frightening, but apocalyptic as well.

    I do appreciate this attempt by Engineer of Knowledge to raise interest in this most pressing problem that our nation faces. It really is a no-brainer when one sees the damage that oil has caused our nation, not only environmentally, but politically and economically as well.

    Yet the morons in DC ignore it as if it were no problem at all. Hopeless!

  13. I saw the show this morning too, M_R. “T. Boone Pickens…Yet, with all of his prestige and money, he can’t budge the politicians in Washington. How sad.”

    His plan also calls for 22% wind power, escpecially concentrated in the Texas
    to Montana geographic corridor. He stated that he has 180 Dems and GOPers as co-sponsors, yet he can’t get a vote. When Scarborough asked why, he said because there are powerful interests opposed. The chief one
    that he pointed out was the KOCH BROS.. Why? Pickens said because they
    have large interest in fertilizers and because the Kock’s are interested in
    Koch Bros. and not the interest of the United States. Pickens said his interest
    was for the country, the USA, as it would cut our dependence on foreign oil AND save over ONE TRILLION Dollars. But, he can’t get a vote. He quiered what are they doing in Congress that they can’t tackle more than one vote at a time. He said that once the facts are in, and the facts are already in for natural guess, it’s time to make a decision and Congress doesn’t. He said at
    83 he is capable with dealing with 6 or so decisions a day in his businesses,
    and Congress has to take months or years.
    Therefore, my friends, this is why we need term limits, one way or another!

    1. Yes, indeed. Term limits, yet WHO would vote term limits on themselves? They quite enjoy their $135K, light work schedule, with many, many vacation days.

    2. Of course, the Koch Bros have been very influential in the Libertarian movement and the deep pockets behind the “Tea Party” Astroturf movement. We are seeing the “Tea Party” policies pushing the US towards the brink of a default. Whether this would happen or not remains to be seen. Although, the results of such a default would be catastrophic for the US economy.

      So, I have to reiterate the comment that “the Koch’s are interested in
      Koch Bros. and not the interest of the United States.”

  14. Engineer of Knowledge wrote:

    “Very good comments gentlemen.”

    Ahem! (laughing) How about a little recognition for the lady participating in this discussion? I would hope that Muddy’s other readers as well, even if they do not comment, are not all of the masculine gender!

            1. I just ‘visited’ her blog [with a full hazmat suit] and noticed that Laci’s comment was the first comment on her blog since mid-April. Apparently not too many people are interested in what a righteous [c]hristian homophobe has to say.

  15. Hello All,
    Dog Gone has brought up a good example of the sugar cane into fuel. Brazil is now supplying (I think) about 3/4 of there needs much like we are trying to do with corn. But their requirements for fuel are a lot less than what we are use to here in the U.S.

    It takes a lot of energy to produce corn into fuel to the point that it is almost a financial break even. I would be surprised to see any long term future in corn bio-fuels.

    By the way Dog Gone…Laci is the dog not the man typing. :-)

    Uptheflag,
    I had a lot of hope for the future of energy independence when T. Boone Pickens came on board but the most this has accomplished is to show just how embedded and controlling the oil/coal industry has on this country.

    Muddy,
    Term limits sound good only during election time for those who are challenging the incumbent. If they should happen to win…you never here and anyone press this forward. In summation…NOT GONNA HAPPEN!! :-)

    Laci,
    Your comment, “ I have to reiterate the comment that “the Koch’s are interested in Koch Bros. and not the interest of the United States.” I could only add that they have found a goofy group of mindless lemmings to carry their banners.

    1. Thanks Engineer of Knowledge, but I know that already. I speak with Laci occasionally by telephone; DEFINITELY male.
      VERY.
      Laci the female dog has a much higher range of vocalization, judging from the occasional sounds in the background during the phone conversations.

  16. I was off line much of yesterday because of a long overdue storm…we lost our phone and internet and power for most of the day, but very lucky, no hail or wind damage. The results, my vegetable garden is suddenly much more lush…we really needed rain.
    I came over here to find a defense of fraking, presented as a reasonable alternative solution to Americas energy problem. You’ve already pointed out the incredible environmental damage this process entails. The effects of the ground water pollution aree already being seen in Pennsylvania.
    This is a short term solution which only prolongs our carbon based energy addiction. It only will benefit the corporations which stand to reap even higher immediate short term profits with a minimum of investment for the future. Another “End Time” non solution. We consumers gain nothing but the possibility of keeping our air conditioning running at higher costs for the time being.
    I’ve already written much about the ecological/human disaster already in motion because of ethanol. More land is required for the burn out agricultural methods needed to produce the hybrid corn, sugar cane and beet products used in its manufacture. When you talk about the use of ethanol in Brazil, you really have to look at the incrementally increasing destruction of the rain forests as more and more land is illegally converted to crop land for the short term gains of ethanol production.
    In the USA, already huge areas of farmland in the midwest are being destroyed by the use of hybrid corns and destructive agricultural techniques needed for intense, heavily subsidiesed ethanol production.
    The bottom line in my book is that these are all “End Time” solutions. Industry, the population, the government are all operating as if we are living in a biblically preordained scenario.
    We are learning the very hard way that nuclear energy is not a solution. It was fascinating to play with the dragon, lull ourselves into the false belief that we could tame it, but when you play with dragons, you will inevitably get burned and burned we have been, as more and more areas of the planet turn into nuclear sacrifice zones…don’t kid yourself about Fukushima. Just because it has temporarily disappeared from the news cycle, it still gets worse.
    The trouble with “short term” solutions is that idea of “short” always becomes a long term reality. If it is cheap, and easy and profitable, human inertia will guarantee that it becomes the long term norm.
    If we start into a program of short term gap filling “fraking” now, it will go on until every available source is used and the environment is trashed. We are still doing this with coal.
    The truly good news is that clean energy really exists. The research and development and perfection of the techniques is being funded and pushed by many countries who stand to become the leaders and will make the real energy profits in the 21st century. There are so many solutions and there are so many things happening that you don’t hear about even in the USA.
    We are there…we just have to take the rest of the planet with us.
    To invest in END TME solutions is a death wish.
    We really do have a future.

    1. Amen! The problem is getting out the word that sustainable alternatives exist. Two projects existed in Britain–The Doncaster Earth Centre and Centre for Alternative Technologies. The Earth Centre had a short lived existance for various reasons. The Centre for Alternative Technologies has been around for over 30 years, but is in Wales. CAT is having financial problems and is off the beaten track, but still has a fair amount of public support. Unfortunately, the money is drying up as people’s budgets are getting tighter. There needs to be better funded versions of these education centres to get the word out to the public that there are alternatives to the dirty energy that exists now.

    2. To invest in END TME solutions is a death wish.

      I often ponder what future generations will say of our generation as they read the chapter on 20th century history. The 21st is looking a lot like the 20th!

      The sun shines down its power on us 24/7, yet we fiddle and folly over stuff left over by the dinosaurs. How archaic. Will the history teacher ask the class, “Why do you suppose, students, that these people were so attached to the past and could not see the terrible environmental destruction that their decisions rendered to our planet?”

      A student raises her hand, “Maybe they were too stupid?”

  17. I don’t know if you are familiar with the fictional science fiction writer that some of his characters were obsessed with, invented by Kurt Vonnegut, Kilgore Trout.
    The author Philip Jose Farmer actually was inspired to write a sort of parody sci fi novel to bring Kilgore into a kind of literary reality.
    The book was a really hilarious trashy paperback called Venus On The Half Shell, by, of course, Kilgore Trout.
    The hero after many adventures, arrives at a place in the future where he finds the ultimate truth about the destruction of earth and it’s inhabitants.
    The highly evolved race which has reevolved on earth are large super intel;lignet cockroaches, who of course are genetically bound with the quest to brew the ultimate beer….
    When asked what happened to the earth and the humans, the giant cockroaches put down their beers and give an answer quite like the yours,
    “Perhaps they were too stupid?”

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