Saturday, January 22, 2011

Natural Gas Growing; "Renewables" Shrinking

It is amazing the extent that "chicken littles" have dominated the discussion about energy supplies over the last century:

“Total future production limit of 5.7 billion barrels of oil, perhaps a ten-year supply” (1914, U.S. Bureau of Mines).
“Reserves to last only thirteen years” (1939, Department of the Interior).
“Reserves to last thirteen years” (1951, Department of the Interior, Oil and Gas Division).
“We could use up all of the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade” (President Jimmy Carter speaking in 1978). [note, that would have been 1989!]
“At the present rate of use, it is estimated that coal reserves will last 200 more years. Petroleum may run out in 20 to 30 years, and natural gas may last only another 70 years” (Ralph M. Feather, Merrill textbook Science Connections Annotated Teacher’s Version, 1990, p. 493).

The problem with these people is a failure of imagination and ingenuity. Human progress, if left alone, will continue to find better and more efficient ways of finding and using energy. Here is an example of some very good news for the United States. The key point:

"There's suddenly much more gas available in the world than previously thought," he told BBC News.
"It's cheaper than it was and the supply is more assured. And it's only half as polluting as coal. There will be strong debates between energy and climate and finance ministries round the world about whether investment should continue to support renewables when the situation on gas has so radically changed."
You'll notice I qualified human progress with the phrase, "if left alone." Gasohol (ethanol made from corn) started out in the Carter administration as a way to stretch oil (and gas) supplies. Even though we have plenty of gas (which can run autos just fine and is cleaner than oil), plenty of coal, and steady reserves of oil, the EPA wants us to use more corn to make more gasohol, even though this creates more pollution and uses more, rather than less, energy.

How much less expensive is gas? Here is a graph of prices for the past year:
Courtesy: Wall Street Journal online
Meanwhile, corn prices continue to soar:
Courtesy: Wall Street Journal online
Given the growth of energy-dense natural gas supplies, and given the tightening world food supply, could we please go back to using corn for food?

Hat tip: Bishop Hill

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