Who do you think said these words? “The oil and gas we rely on for 75 percent of our energy are running out.” And because we are running out, ”we must prepare quickly for a transition to strict conservation and to the use of coal and permanent renewable energy sources like solar power.” It wasn’t Obama we said those words. Obama would never recommend the use of more coal. It was President Jimmy Carter. Should a President really go by the name Jimmy?
Carter went on to say, “in spite of increased effort, domestic production has been dropping steadily at about six percent per year….We could use up all proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade.” (That would have been the end of the 1980′s.)
Did you know that known reserves for natural gas have actually been increasing? According to the Energy Information Administration (part of the Department of Energy) there were 207 trillion cubic feet of known natural gas reserves in 1977. In 2009 there were 272 trillion cubic feet that were known to exist. Now the nonprofit Potential Gas Committee estimates that the U.S. future supply of natural gas at 2,170 trillion cubic feet. How did this happen? Jimmy said we were running out of energy. The simple answer is technology has improved to the point, with a technology that is called “fracking”, that we can now recover natural gas and oil from places that were thought to contain unrecoverable oil and gas not too many years back. Much of that recovery is happening in oil and gas shale.
Fracking has increased the known reserves of natural gas tremendously, to the point that known reserves will last for at least the next 100 years. Fracking is being used so successfully in oil and gas shale formations that we are starting to export natural gas from the United States. (Wait a minute, I thought we had an energy shortage.) Not only is natural gas abundant with this new technology, but it is a much cleaner burning fuel than coal or oil and to make the story even better, natural gas is cheap and dropping in price. Since 2005 the price of natural gas has dropped from $9 per thousand cubic feet to about $4 per thousand cubic feet. A thousand cubic feet sounds like a bunch of natural gas to me. I don’t think my gas tank will hold a thousand cubic feet, will it?
That is a problem. In the past, natural gas could be used for automobile fuel only if a conversion was made to the vehicle which involved a tank that could withstand pressures of 3000 psi. That is a lot of psi’s! Anyway, in the past, that conversion would cost about $6,000. And where do you go buy the natural gas anyway?
Well, guess what. Now, new technologies are being developed to convert the natural gas from the gaseous state to the liquid state. Not only can natural gas be used to generate electricity with much less pollution than coal, it can be transported by pipeline and technologies are now being developed to convert it to diesel, gasoline and jet fuel.
How does fracking work you ask? I will tell you.
First I will tell you that fracking occurs between 5,000 and 10,000 feet below the surface of the earth. Water tables don’t go down any lower than about 400 feet. So there almost a mile of rock between the water table and where that fracking occurs. When a gas well is being drilled precautions are made to ensure that the fracking occurs well below the water tables and the well is sealed to prevent contamination.
The initial well is drilled vertically, but when the drill gets to the right depth, the drill bit turns and it starts to go horizontally into the layers where the oil and gas are found. After the hole is drilled, the drilling rig removes the drill pipe, replaces the drill pipe with production casing and cements it in place. Then the workover rig guys (the guys who do the fracking) come onto the site. They make all their precautions to make sure they are not going to cause environmental damage and pressure test the well at 9,000 psi to make sure there are no leaks. The workover rig then perforates the concrete casing with charges and pumps a mixture of water and sand into the formation under very high pressure to make it easier for the oil and gas to flow into the production casing to be pumped out and used by man.
Isn’t that cool? Guess what. The left doesn’t think it is so cool. We will talk about that part tomorrow.