Natural Gas Economy in US


US natural gas production has been steadily increasing from about 20,256 billion cubic feet in 2008 (consumption 23,277 bcf, less imports 3,021 bcf) to about 23,986 bcf in 2012 (consumption 25,502 bcf, less imports 1,516 bcf). In 2012, US NG production was about 40% from shale, and the rest from tight gas, and other sources. The shale share is projected to grow to 43% and 60% by 2015 and 2035, respectively.


Natural gas is good for the US economy because it:


- is domestic (energy security), 

- is abundant (many decades of supply), 

- emits no health-damaging particulates, unlike coal, 

- has CO2 emissions that are about 50-60% less/kWh than of coal (reduces GW), 

- is low-cost, about 3.50-4.00 dollars/million Btu, which promotes economic growth and job creation.



Natural gas replacing coal has been the primary reason US CO2 emissions have declined since 2008, which will continue as marginal coal plants are closed, more 60-efficient CCGTs are built to meet proposed EPA CO2 emission requirements.


Whereas, renewables, economic contraction and efficiency contributed to CO2 reduction, they were not the primary reason. 



For new coal plants, the EPA proposal caps emissions at 1,100 lb CO2/MWh. A typical new plant, without CCS technology, emits about 1,800 lb CO2/MWh.


For new NG plants, the EPA proposal caps emissions at 1,100 lb CO2/MWh for plants 850 MW or less, and 1,000 lb CO2/MWh for plants greater than 850 MW. Most plants would meet these caps without CCS technology.


The above EPA proposal is a dress rehearsal for a much larger one next year that will limit CO2 emissions from all EXISTING fossil power plants.


NOTE: GW started in the late 1700s as the world started to come out of the Little Ice Age. By about 1850 the negative temperature anomaly (deviation from the 10,000-year average temperature) became zero and since that time it has become positive. Since 1900, CO2 + deforestation + industrial agriculture + urbanization + population explosion (1 billion in 1800, 7.2 in 2012) + increased world gross product, and its attendant air pollution, are all influencing this natural temperature rise. 


In 1800, the Gross World Product, GWP, was $175.24 billion; population 1.0 billion.

In 2012, the GWP was $71,830 billion, 407 times greater; population 7.2 billion.


NOTE: Fracking is the process of injecting fluids under high pressure to crack underground shale rocks and release oil or gas within the rocks for extraction. There are potential risks of contaminating ground water, increasing air pollution, and mishandling of waste. Federal and state regulations, such as California Senate Bill 4, have been and are being implemented to set stricter fracking standards and better regulate the practices and minimize adverse environmental impacts of fracking.


NOTE: The EPA has issued stricter rules regarding fracking practices to reduce air pollution. As there are tens of thousands of wells, the new rules will be in effect in January 2015 to give equipment suppliers time to ramp up production, and NG and oil drillers time to purchase and install the required equipment and systems.



The abundance and low cost of NG will give the US a many-decade, major, competitive advantage versus Europe and Japan which have NG prices about 3-4 times US prices. It would be short-sighted foolishness for the US government to allow excessive exports of NG to these competitors for short-term financial gain by a few US energy companies.


Because of higher NG prices in Europe and Japan, US energy companies have pressured the US government to approve increased exports. A third proposal to export NG was approved, despite concerns greater exports would increase prices in the US. 


The three projects approved by the US-DOE would have the capacity to ship 5.6 bcf/d, about two trillion cf/yr, about 8% of US production in 2012.


Energy companies are seeking windfall profits by buying low in the US and selling high abroad. More than a dozen export proposals are still pending before the US-DOE!!


The export of NG likely would cause US prices and household energy bills to increase and would hamstring the nascent resurgence of US manufacturing.


It would be much more effective for US economic growth and US job creation to keep the NG in the US and use it to make lower-cost products for domestic use and export, instead of exporting the NG to our competitors and have them produce lower-cost products which they would import to the US and elsewhere and push US manufacturers out of markets.


A WSJ article of October 2, 2013, stated, foreign and domestic chemical companies, using NG as feedstock, will be investing at least $50 billion in plant and equipment in the US, during the 2013-2020 period, because of the abundance and low prices of the NG supply, compared with other locations in the world where they would normally build such plants


Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who heads the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, suggested the government should be more skeptical as it weighs future NG export proposals. “With each new export permit, the DOE has a higher bar to prove these exports are in the best interests of American consumers and employers,” Wyden said.


US industrial companies using NG will be able to more-effectively compete with European and Japanese companies, which will increase exports, decrease imports, reduce trade deficits, and revitalize many other US industries, and create millions of well-paying jobs; inflation adjusted, median US household incomes have declined, while average household incomes have increased, a measure of increasing income maldistribution during the past 10 years.



The Energy Information Administration, EIA, part of the US Department of Energy, collects data regarding NG market trends. Based on those data, it projects NG production to continue to increase and projects prices, $/million Btu, to increase at slightly more than the rate of inflation under the most likely scenario of a low-growth US economy, over the next few decades. 



It is well known, the particulates emitted and widely dispersed by coal plants are harmful to public health and the health of forests (acid rain).


- US deaths from coal energy are about 15/yr/TWh, NG energy 4, wind energy 0.15, nuclear energy 0.04/yr/TWh

- A 1,000 MW coal plant will emit over its 40-year life more radioactivity to the atmosphere than a 1,000 MW nuclear plant.



An additional benefit of NG is that the output of NG-fired CCGTs can be more-rapidly ramped up and down than of coal and nuclear plants, which is of major benefit for integrating into the grid the increasingly greater quantities of variable wind and solar energy.


This integrating is not cost-free. The below OECD study quantified the levelized costs of the grid level effects of variable energy, such as wind and solar, on the grid. It includes the costs of wind energy balancing, PLUS the costs of grid connection, reinforcement and extension, PLUS the costs of back-up (adequacy), i.e., keeping almost all EXISTING generators fueled, staffed, and in good working order to provide energy when wind energy is minimal, about 30% of the hours of the year in New England, about 10-15% of the hours of the year west of Chicago.


In the US, the costs of the 3 PLUSSES for onshore IWTs are minimal when the annual wind energy on the grid is only a few percent, because most grids have some spare capacity to absorb variable wind energy. As the wind energy percentage nears 3 - 5%, the spare capacity is used up and the costs of the 3 PLUSSES are about $7.5/MWh at 5%, about $16.30/MWh at 10%, and about 19.84/MWh at 30%. This is significantly greater than the about $5/MWh usually mentioned by IWT promoters. See page 8 of below URL. Corresponding costs for offshore wind turbine plants would be significantly greater.


These costs are a significant part of the US annual average grid price of about 5 c/kWh. Mostly, they are "socialized", i.e., charged to rate payers, not to wind turbine owners. As a result, wind turbine owners, with help of other subsidies, such as the 2.3 c/kWh production tax credit, can underbid other low-cost producers, causing them to sell less energy and become less viable over time, i.e., future investors will be less willing to invest in such producers, unless compensated with "capacity payments", that will be charged to rate payers, not wind turbine owners. 



If NG is used in 60%-efficient CCGT plants, capital cost about $1,500/kW, it will produce energy at about 5-6 c/kWh. CCGTs can also be combined with district heating, as is widely practiced in Europe, Russia, Japan, etc., to yield system thermal efficiencies of up to about 85%, i.e., only 15% of the thermal energy is rejected to the atmosphere.


That is significantly better than, for example, Vermont's wastefully-expensive SPEED RE program and the Lowell Mountain environmentally-destructive, ridge line wind turbines which produce energy at about 15-20 c/kWh. This compares with New England grid prices of about 5 c/kWh, at which Green Mountain Power, a Canada-owned utility in Vermont, buys some of its energy. Here are the latest SPEED program numbers:


2010, last six months: 13.87 c/kWh

2011: 16.44

2012: 17.16 

2013, first eight months: 19.30


NOTE: RE costs are steadily increasing, while NE annual average grid prices have been about 5 c/kWh since 2008!!! RE promoters claimed RE costs would be decreasing!! Have they just been making it up to befuddle lay people, thinking no one would notice?


For the 2010 – 2017 period, a cumulative $131,220,058 excess above grid prices will have been rolled into electric rates of already-struggling households and businesses.


Here are the latest Lowell Mountain numbers:


In its zeal for RE, GMP, purposely disregarding the advice of its own power system engineers, and disregarding the 5-yr nearby Maine ridge line CFs of about 0.25, and disregarding the New York State multi-year average CFs of about 0.235, claimed in documents filed with the PSB:


GMP CF claim: Standard rotor (90 m dia) = 63 x 8760 x 0.2842 = 156,844 MWh/yr

GMP and DPS SPEED websites claim = 63 x 8760 x 0.331 = 182,909 MWh/yr

GMP CF claim: Large rotor (117 m dia) = 63 x 8760 x 0.3587 = 197,959 MWh/yr


NOTE: In the REAL world, these GMP claims turned out not worth the paper they were written on, but the Vermont Public Service Board, in GW-fighting mode, found no fault with them. Protecting the interests of the public? Sure.


Lowell’s CF for the first 6 months of 2013 was 0.189, with similar numbers to follow. This means the COST of wind energy is not a tolerable 10 c/kWh, per GMP Lowell spreadsheets, but closer to a hardship 15-20 c/kWh.



There is no way Vermont's already-struggling households and business can prosper with energy that is 3-4 times grid prices. Increased energy efficiency is a far better approach than dysfunctional RE, because it is the low-hanging fruit, has not scratched the surface, provides the quickest and biggest “bang for the buck”, and:


- it is invisible

- it does not make noise

- it does not destroy pristine ridge lines/upset mountain water runoffs

- it would reduce CO2, NOx, SOx and particulates more effectively than renewables

- it would not require expensive, highly-visible build-outs of transmission systems

- it would slow electric rate increases

- it would slow fuel cost increases

- it would not lower property values

- it would not harm people's health

- it would slow depletion of fuel resources

- it would create 3 times the jobs and reduce 3-5 times the Btus and CO2 per invested dollar than renewables

- all the technologies are fully developed

- it would end the subsidizing of renewables tax-shelters benefitting mostly for the top 1% at the expense of the other 99%

- it would be more democratic/equitable/humane

- it would do all this without public resistance and controversy.


To solve the "renewable" dilemma, why not declare energy efficiency as renewable energy. EE should be considered, and in fact is, the highest form of RE.  It would be very good for Vermont's economy and already-struggling households and businesses.


NOTE: At one time hydro energy was not considered "renewable" in Vermont, but the legislature came to its senses and declared it renewable.


Vermont is fortunate to have Hydro-Quebec nearby. Not to use more of its low-cost, CO2-free, clean, hydro energy is pig-headed, shortsightedness, by Vermont leaders aiming to "protect" Vermont RE companies (that make big campaign contributions) from low-cost, CO2-free, hydro energy.


If NEW residences and other buildings are required to be designed as "zero-energy" or "surplus-energy", then they will save energy EVERY year for a long time, say 100 years.


If a light vehicle is designed for 50 mph EPA combined, as is the Toyota Prius, it will save energy for at least 8 years or longer.


That is the direction Vermont should take, instead of RE promoters lamenting about scaring away out-of-state, multi-millionaire, RE developers using lucrative tax-shelters to rip off Vermonters, and who propose to tear up and defile Vermont's pristine ridge lines to place mostly-foreign, noise-making, 459-ft high, wind turbines on them.


These wind turbines disturb the peace of mind, and sleep, and quality of life, and property values of people who live within about 2 miles of them, especially when stronger winds make them operate at higher outputs, as recently happened when Lowell was measured to emit irregular noises AVERAGING 50 dBA.


This is well in excess of the PSB allowed 45 dBA, AVERAGED OVER ONE-HOUR AT THE RESIDENCE, which already is far too lax a requirement for a rural area, especially at night when people (and other fauna) need restful, health-restoring sleep.


It should be less than 40 dBA at an abutter's PROPERTY LINE, not at his residence, so the abutter is not deprived of the rights to his entire property, without due compensation.


Vermont already has the 4th highest electricity costs, right after Alaska, Hawaii, and Connecticut, per EIA, largely due to inanely-conceived RE programs benefitting well-connected, multi-millionaires (crony-capitalism) and hurting all others.


Whereas the above illustrates what has happened in Vermont, other states have similar, ineffective RE programs, that can only exist because of fiscally-unsustainable subsidies.



The US needs to pursue LOW-COST and clean ways of generating energy:


- natural gas to replace coal

- coal gasification and use the gas in high-efficiency CCGTs

- offshore wind on the East and West Coasts

- concentrated solar thermal plants in the US Southwest

- roof and land-mounted thermal solar domestic water heaters all over the US

- roof and land-mounted PV solar all over the US

- modular nuclear reactors to replace existing nuclear plants, plus augment current US capacity from about 100,000 MW to about 250,000 MW; production would be 250,000 MW x 8,760 hr/yr x CF 0.90 = 1,971 TWh/yr, about 50% of current US electricity consumption.


NOTE: The Anholt offshore wind power plant in the North Sea has 111 Siemens wind turbines, 3.6 MW each, for a total of about 400 MW, on 88 km2.

Inaugurated on September 3, 2013.

Energy density = (400 MW x CF 0.40)/88 km2 = about 1.82 W/m2, less transmission losses to the UK grid; the CF 0.40 is assumed.


NOTE: Onshore wind plants in good locations west of Chicago have average CFs of about 0.38, for an energy density of about 1.73 W/m2, less transmission losses.


If 200,000 new IWTs were added west of Chicago, 3 MW each, 450-ft tall, they would produce 600,000 MW x 8,760 hr/yr x CF 0.38 x (1 - transmission losses to the East Coast 0.27) = 1,458 TWh/yr, as measured at the East Coast user's meter, and would require an area of about 600,000/1.73 = 346,820 km2, or 89,827 sq mi, to allow for proper spacing of the IWTs.


NOTE: B&W has developed a 125 MW nuclear power module that will be built in US factories under controlled conditions to reduce costs and ensure quality. Several modules can be combined to create power plants of 1,000 MW, or greater. The plant can be arranged for water or air cooling of the condenser. The modules use standard 5% enriched U-235 uranium and have a 4.5-year operating cycle between refueling. The modules are fully-assembled and rail/barge-transportable to a plant site. Refueling of the modules would be at the factory. One module of a plant would be refueled, while others would continue to produce energy.


B&W, seeing the benefits of modularity, is planning to supplement its nuclear module with a fully-assembled, steam turbine-generator module that is rail/barge-transportable to a plant site. It will likely partner with GE for the T-G module. 


B&W calculates over the 60-yr life of the reactor, each module would avoid about 125 MW x 1,000 kW/MW x 8,760 hr/yr x CF 0.90 x 60 yr x 2.12 lb of CO2/kWh x 1 metric ton/2,204.6 lb = 57 million metric tons of CO2 that would have been emitted by a coal plant.



There is no point discussing when fossil fuels will run out, or that global warming is progressing, in the long run, fossil fuels are unsustainable. The question should be how great a percentage of our energy consumption can be obtained from renewables, such as wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, etc.


Because of the current excessive per capita energy consumption, and the large land areas needed by renewable energy systems (biomass < 0.5 W/m2, wind < 2 W/m2, PV solar <10 W/m2, etc.), RE likely will not be even close to 100%, especially in the more densely-populated areas of developed countries; the balance of the energy would need to be provided by nuclear.


By far the lowest-cost way to make use of that energy is by increased energy efficiency in all areas and reducing the per capita consumption of energy and other resources, such as by requiring:


- the manufacture of only high-mileage hybrid light vehicles (cars, minivans, SUVs and 1/4-ton pick-ups), such as the non-plug-in Toyota Prius, 50 MPG EPA Combined; current vehicles reject about 75% as heat; cars use about 80 kWh (thermal)/100 km at 110 km/hr.


Because energy on the grid is mostly fossil-based, plug-in hybrids, such as the Chevy Volt, gas mode, 37 MPG EPA Combined, will have greater CO2 emissions/km than a non-plug-in Toyota Prius, unless primarily driven in EV mode.


                                           Travel       Mileage      Energy/yr               Emissions                                          

                                           miles/yr        MPG                           lb CO2/yr      g CO2/km                            

Present CAFE                       12,000         27.5         436 gal         10,647         250.36          

2025 CAFE                          12,000         54.5         220 gal          5,372          126.33

Chevy Volt, EV mode            12,000                      4,200 kWh        5,818          136.80

Chevy Volt, Gas mode           12,000         37.0        324 gal           7,914          186.07


- the building of "zero-energy" or "energy-surplus" residential and other buildings; adding PV solar and thermal solar systems to highly-efficient Passivhaus-style buildings will make them "zero-energy" or "energy-surplus" buildings.


- the cessation of incandescent light bulb production; the ratio of energy from mine or well divided by useful light energy is about 100.


- all light fixtures to be dimmable; instead of just flipping the switch, adjust the light to what is needed.


- all goods to be designed for long lives and maximum recycling


- people to live closer to their places of work to enable walking, bicycling w/optional battery augmentation and tricycling w/optional battery augmentation, which will reduce road and highway budgets, road and highway impacts, commuting times, transportation costs and pollution; bicycles use about 2.2 kWh (thermal)/100 km at 20 km/hr.