Can natural gas elevate people from poverty?

June 12, 2018

oil and gas drilling

Guest post by Bob Arrington, PE*

The Garfield County Energy Advisory Board met last Thursday night (6/7/18) with guest speaker David Ludlum, Executive Director, Western Slope Colorado Oil & Gas Association (WSCOGA), giving an address on The Western States Rural Natural Gas Initiative.

Ludlam declared, “By promoting new markets for Utah and Colorado Shale Gas, partners in the Western States Rural Natural Gas Initiative are exploring how Rocky Mountain Natural Gas (NG) can elevate people from poverty, reduce trade deficits, stabilize energy scarce regions in the world, improve air quality and enhance the local economy.”

He followed this altruistic and noble concept with further dictum of the “… moral obligation to develop resources … because of people without indoor plumbing,” and “children working in cobalt mines,” a battery stabilizing element along with nickel for energy density. For those reasons it was important that natural gas be developed to alleviate these problems.

Ok, now let us look a bit more deeply of what is really a more complete picture.

Methane is CH4, or one carbon atom and 4 hydrogen atoms in a molecule. If you add 2 molecules of oxygen (O2) which is 4 atoms of O, the atoms of oxygen will bind to the 1 atom of carbon and to the 4 atoms of hydrogen and then it changes to 1 molecule of CO2 and 2 molecules of H2O with the new molecules at a lower energy state. This energy is “released” to the surroundings as heat energy. In a closed capture system, or confined direct use, this energy can make steam or cook food respectively. But that heat is eventually dissipated to the point it can no longer be used. This is called “entropy” (disorder). Entropy will increase until it becomes a constant (disorder is constant and complete throughout the system). In this system “energy” exists, and equals the total amount of energy the system ever had, but it is no longer available as any “collection” that could be used in a process to produce “work” as it flowed to dissipation. This is known as conservation of energy as a law of physics. Ludlam used this phrase to give a feeling of endless supply of energy source and put a tone of “science” to his hard sell.

But — can natural gas elevate people from poverty?

It can’t lift people from poverty at the use point where it is sent. Customers are quite simply going to have to pay all the costs and profit for every system that got the natural gas to point of use. Producers will actually try to find markets at end points that actually have money or resources to buy or trade resources.

In Japan, where U.S. companies have been trying to establish the market, they have most likely been preempted by a Russian pipeline that can furnish natural gas without the overburden cost of liquefying and ship transport. China is reducing coal usage and is a primary solar array power provider. They are well on the path to solar changeover and are well on the way to leadership in this cost effective energy-producing method. They will be unbeatable, as is happening in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa building with these power sources. Even in the U.S., new power plants can see less expensive options and bids with solar than natural gas.

Of course, none of this will have any effect on trade deficits due to:

  1. Inadequate markets;
  2. Solar making inroads;
  3. Ineffective return on costs; and
  4. A president initiating a trade war.

The net results of investing in this and not having markets will be a “bust” rather than enhancing any local economies. Investors banking on a 30-year payback will be left with an empty pocketbook.

The final nail to this coffin fantasy is the acceleration of climate change measurement values compared to predictions by the models. Because of the unanticipated feedback of climate effects and factors not recognized, the rate of change is more accelerated. Temperature increases above predictions will cause new points of critical events to occur earlier than projected. One such unrecognized factor is aerosol film on ocean waters which has reduced CO2 absorption by those bodies. Even building CO2 removal stations cannot match this tremendous loss.

More methane leakage from “binge” natural gas production affects temperature increase being more rapid than models predicted.  Methane leakage from well sites and handling, including use, puts methane itself into the air and that methane is 86 times greater than CO2 in storing heat. Critics would say, “it breaks down after 10 years.” But not all of it breaks down (to CO2 and water vapor) and, since the leakage continues, each year finds what “broke” down replaced and even more methane leaked as development keeps expanding and new uses are created.  Sooner tundra thaw natural gas release and ocean warming melting methane hydrates are also contributors to temperature increase. On the other hand, less CO2 is being converted to oxygen by the reduction of forests and the ocean pollution.

The products of combustion of the methane being CO2 and water vapor are both green house gases. Climate deniers try to argue that the water vapor “reflects ” solar radiation and is “cooling.” That is incorrect and plain BS. While clouds reflect solar light in the visible range as “white,” other ranges as UV penetrate or “store” in the molecules of water (think of severe sunburns on cloudy day). Water vapor does store heat energy, as does the CO2.

Water vapor is also the most important greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Heat radiated from Earth’s surface is absorbed by water vapor molecules in the lower atmosphere. The water vapor molecules, in turn, radiate heat in all directions. Some of the heat returns to the Earth’s surface. Thus, water vapor is a second source of warmth (in addition to sunlight) at the Earth’s surface.”

It seems that the moral action to be taken is to put the brakes on fossil fuels usages and sensibly move into rapid conversion to solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, and gravity energy systems. This is a move that is necessary just because of the finite amount of fossil fuel energy.

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*Bob Arrington, PE, is a Battlement Mesa citizen representative on Garfield County’s Energy Advisory Board (EAB). He also represents the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance and the Battlement Concerned Citizens.

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One Comment on “Can natural gas elevate people from poverty?”

  1. Peggy Tibbetts Says:

    And also too Jordan Cove can’t save West Slope O&G cuz it doesn’t exist. It’s a pipe dream.

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