News / USA

New Technology Provides Abundance of Natural Gas

Greg Flakus

As the price of oil continues its upward trend, there are concerns about future energy supplies and the impact high costs will have on a struggling economy.  But many experts in the energy field believe an answer is at hand in the form of natural gas, supplies of which are growing thanks mostly to new drilling techniques in shale rock.  Many people in the energy sector see natural gas as the fuel of the future.

In the past few years, there has been a dramatic increase in estimates of natural gas reserves in the United States, thanks in large part to the use of hydraulic fracturing in shale deposits.  Fracturing involves the use of high-pressure water, chemicals and sand to make fissures in rock where gas is trapped deep below the earth's surface.

University of Houston chemical engineer and energy expert Michael Economides says the sudden increase in gas reserves could change the world's energy picture.

"I think we are poised right now for natural gas to make a major move, because it has all the right elements to become the premier fuel of the world economy in the not-too-distant future," noted Economides.

U.S. development of its natural gas resources could reduce dependence on foreign sources of energy and some political analysts believe liquefied natural gas could be exported across the Atlantic to undermine Russia's periodic threats to cutoff European customers.  Michael Economides agrees.

"Twenty-five European countries depend for more than 75 percent of their oil and gas on Russia," Economides added.  "Now, if for instance, the United States, with all this gas, can actually export gas to Western Europe, it turns the whole energy independence conundrum on its head, because we clearly have enough gas to change the equation in Europe."

Most natural gas is used for heating homes, cooking food and running power plant generators, while oil is the primary fuel used for transportation.  But there are proposals to convert truck fleets to natural-gas burning engines and abandon pollution-prone coal plants for gas-powered generators that would support an increased use of electric automobiles.

Natural gas produces close to 50 percent less carbon dioxide than coal and less air pollution in general than oil, something Michael Economides says should draw support from environmentalists.

"Natural gas, which has a lot of advantages, should be the darling of environmentalists as well as business people," he noted.

But, while many environmental groups do give natural gas its place in the energy mix, some have expressed concerns over possible contamination of water resources through fracturing.  The Environmental protection agency is making a major study of the issue.

Former Shell Oil president John Hofmeister, who heads the group Citizens for Affordable Energy, says the oil and gas industry should take the matter seriously.

"I think if we are enforcing standards, regulated standards, that all companies have to apply and we have monitoring of these standards, then I think we can come to a sustainable formula for drilling an adequate supply of future gas reserves, which will keep us well supplied with energy for decades and decades to come," said Hofmeister.

One expert who has looked at the issue closely for many years is David Burnett, a scientist at the Global Petroleum Research Institute at Texas A&M University.  He says proper disposal of water used in the process is the main concern.

"The drilling and fracturing of gas shales is completely benign, the surface footprint of drilling operations is pretty noticeable and the disposal of the water as it comes back is of concern," noted Burnett.  "Most of us now, I think, do not allow people to discharge that water that comes back into any sort of surface waterway or any public water supplies or anything like that."

If the environmental concerns can be fully addressed, some experts say, natural gas could become a much cheaper and a much more reliable alternative to the various renewable energies like wind and solar, which represent less than two percent of the current energy mix and are dependent on large government subsidies.

Based on International Energy Administration estimates, the University of Houston's Michael Economides says the world has nearly 300 years worth of natural gas at current levels of usage.  

But he says there may be even more in the form of frozen gas on the ocean floor, called natural gas hydrates.  If the gas hydrates can be extracted in a commercially viable way, Economides believes the world could have as much as a thousand years worth of the fuel.

You May Like

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid