Thursday, July 14, 2011

Shale Gas Shortage

I am surprised not to see more pick up on the earlier report on industry e-mails gathered through the Freedom of Information Act.  It has a lot of affinities with our earlier post.

I have been busy with my book reports, so I am going to have to cut short the commentary here.

I am not actually opposed to shale gas extraction.  I am just suspicious as the panacea to all our future problems.  To be honest, I suspect that in a few years we are going to be desperately looking to get our hands on every bit of fossil fuel we can: no point in kidding ourselves about that.

Kurt Cobb, Scitizen, 15 June 2011

There simply won't be enough gas available for broad new uses such as natural gas-powered vehicles or natural gas-fired baseload capacity for electric utilities. Far from displacing oil, natural gas is likely to continue in its current uses: a fuel for heating buildings and for industrial process heat and a petrochemical feedstock.

Let's imagine for a moment (even though the facts don't support this) that the natural gas optimists are correct, that the
United States has a 100-year supply of natural gas. Even if this were true, it's 100 years at current rates of production.But wait, the natural gas industry is proposing vast new uses of natural gas and expecting normal economic growth. That means that the rate of production must grow rather consistently over time if natural gas is to displace oil and meet all that new demand.

Simple spreadsheet calculations will tell you what you need to know about what happens to such claims under the pressure of a little exponential growth. At 2 percent per year growth (about what oil production grew prior to the plateau that set in in 2005), the 100-year U.S. domestic natural gas supply is exhausted in 56 years. If we assume that production peaks when about 50 percent of the resource is exhausted, this puts the peak within 35 years. Think about it. Even if the optimists are correct, with a production growth rate of just 2 percent per year, the country reaches a peak within 35 years! What will we do after that?

The picture gets acutely worse as the rate of production growth rises. A 3 percent rate implies exhaustion in 47 years and peak in 31 years. A 5 percent growth rates means exhaustion in 37 years and a peak in just 26 years. Now consider that domestic supplies are probably going to be less than claimed, and you'll see why shale gas simply cannot solve our energy problems.

What is preventing the huge ramp-up promised by the natural gas industry? As it turns out, while initial flows from fractured shale gas wells are very high, they usually decline by 65 to 80 percent within the first year. The second year sees another considerable decline. Therefore, flows tend to settle at very low levels. This means that in order to achieve growth in the rate of production, new well completions must expand quickly enough both to make up for these steep decline rates and to meet the need for growth in overall rates of production. The process is akin to trying to climb up a down escalator, one that is going down at a rather fast rate.

The article notes a report (large 93 MB pdf) that was written for the Post Carbon Institute.


Anne said...

So we'll have hit peak phosphorus roughly in the 2030's.. then not long after that peak natural gas, then peak coal... and meanwhile hydrofracking will seriously screw with underground water reservoirs ( as well as current leaching from industry already messing with it)... population explosion isn't expected to slow down until after 2100.. We are the generation that lives on the cusp.

They like saying 100 years.. because most people hear that and it gives them the ability to say "screw it.. running out will be my grandkid's problem".

Global Easter Island syndrome..

russell1200 said...

The somewhat optomistic trendlines that I have seen, put peak population around 10.5 billion people circa 2050, a plateau, and then slow decline. Of course it is all guesswork.

You can also look at Reserve/Production R/P values: how far can we go with known reserves:

A lot of our major inputs have an R/P of under or around 30. Without finding more, we will run completely out (not just peak) in 30 years. Phosphorus by way of comparison is an "optomistic" R/P of 90 years. I think this is why 2050 (sometimes 2030) is looked at very closely by people trying to do the serious guesswork.

I hope that cheered you up! LOL