natural gas

Jan 7, 2022 by

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Natural gas is in the news so much lately, you’d think it was oil. Natural gas is basically oil matter that was exposed to greater pressures and higher temperatures. It’s comprised of the same organic life from tens to hundreds of million years ago. Most of this life was extremely small – algae, bacteria, plankton, and plants – got buried, compressed, and heated by the earth. In the last two centuries, all industrial societies were created and sustained by resurrecting and burning this ancient life.

For much of this time, natural gas was considered an inconvenient waste. Gas came with oil wells. Oil was black gold, gas not so much. So, gas from oil wells was vented, just let into the atmosphere, or flared, burned at the top of the well, still is today. How much natural gas is there? To use my favorite received answer when asking innumerate America a question expecting a number in reply, a lot. Is there enough natural gas to fire the future? Depends on what you mean by fire. For the 8 billion people on this planet to live like energy glutton America, not even close. To fire up the planet’s temperature, making it equally uncomfortable for all, absolutely.

Natural gas is produced almost entirely by the oil industry. For example, Exxon Mobil is the biggest producer of natural gas in the United States. The US had massive “traditional” fields of gas. These fields’ production peaked in the early 2000s. Since then, US growth in gas production has all been shale, gained through fracking. Just like fracked oil, fracked gas is a lot more expensive.

Who has made money on shale? That’s the great mystery of the last fifteen years. We know the greatest gas producer in the US, Exxon Mobil, saw their debt rise to $60 billion. The biggest independent US shale gas producer, Chesapeake, recently emerged from bankruptcy. Along with oil and gas, shale has produced hundreds of billions of debt, so depending on how that’s accounted, no environmental costs included, the question of who’s made money remains unclear. For certain, the debt sellers did and consumption was massively debt subsidized. We’re all energy welfare queens in Cadillacs now.

In the US, gas was first used largely for heating, cooking, and some industry. The most important recent change in US gas policy has been its growth as a fuel for electricity generation. Quite remarkably in just three decades, gas use has doubled in electricity generation, with coal generation cut in half. Various interests’ finger point at renewables as the culprit to coal’s demise, but it’s all been natural gas.

The growth of fracked shale gas has also seen a significant development in US liquid natural gas exports. If you cool and pressurize natural gas, you can ship it in tankers across the world. It’s an energy intensive process. Again, who is making money, well if you can sell it to Europe right now, you have a much better chance.

Over the last five months, the financial press helped create a “crisis” in European natural gas. Now there’s a couple factors to take in account here. First and foremost, the supposed shortage numbers came from a group called Gas Infrastructure Europe, “the association representing the interests of European gas infrastructure operators” in Brussels. So take these, and as you learn, all energy numbers with a big grain salt, especially if they’re coming from the industry, Brussels, DC, Sacramento, or lord help us Riyadh. Such statements can send prices soaring, looking back over the years, that’s usually been the intent.

Western Europe never had a lot of gas and their fields are now all fairly depleted. So, they’ve become ever more reliant on those bad, bad Ruskis, who have a lot of gas. This raises the concern of the US Natural Security State. Europe, Ruski dependent? After all, Western Europe was where US troops met Soviet troops in 1945. It is one of the borders of the post-war Pax Americana, Japan the west border, or is that the east border? This sphere direction stuff is always confusing. You start anywhere going one direction, travel far enough, you’re eventually going in the opposite direction. Anyway, even though the Soviet Union dismantled itself in 1991, and I don’t think there’s any Bolsheviks left, the US National Security State still presses the Ruski fear button whenever useful. How else do you keep those obscene military industrial profits flowing? The damn terrorists seem to have just walked off the field. And Bubba, the American military industrial complex is a lot more profitable than the oil and gas industry these days.

All this European gas noise is both directly and indirectly related to a new gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, scheduled to go online immediately with final German approval. What’s most interesting in this particular matter, Paris based International Energy Agency, founded by none other than American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger during the 1970s energy crisis, shows EU gas consumption has been declining for 15 years, down 11%, German consumption flat. So connect all the dots in whatever way you wish and welcome to the politics of energy, where natural gas evolved from being a waste product to a new global force.

Gas use has also grown across the rest of the planet, most significantly China, which of course industrialized for the globe over the last several decades. China didn’t industrialize in any Dengian “third way”, they did it like every other preceding industrial place on the planet, they burned coal, oil, and now natural gas.

Natural gas, ancient as oil and coal, burned its way into modern life. Yet, over half the planet still uses barely any at all. Energy challenges are different wherever you stand on this earth. Kazakhstan uses relatively tiny amounts of natural gas for transportation and is running into problems. For established industrial culture, it means one thing, figuring out how to use a lot less energy by changing the way a lot of things are done. It also means confronting a lot of powerful entrenched interests, here in the United States, the biggest is we th

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