Wednesday, April 20, 2011

More Natural Gas Pains

The savior of our energy lifestyle, plentiful Natural Gas (NatGas), is being analyzed by everyone that even thinks they have a clue. I have written a bit about NatGas. How it is not all that "green" for transportation fuel and how the pipelines (infrastructure) needs some serious upgrading. NatGas (Ch4) is a greenhouse gas. It is short lived as Ch4, being converted over time to CO2 and water. With all the current buzz, I will once again step outside of my comfort zone and try to make sense of what is the whole deal.

According to Wikipedia,Ch4 last about 10 years in the lower atmosphere and should it make it through the lower atmosphere, it may last 12 years in the stratosphere. NatGas or methane, is about 20 time more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas and is responsible for about 12% of the greenhouse effect. Most sources for atmospheric methane are natural, it is a by product of nearly every biological function. Vegetarians produce more methane than omnivores and carnivores. So cows, grazing animals and PETA members are primary natural animal sources :). Decay of vegetation, incomplete burning, etc. are all sources. The question is how much is due to NatGas production for energy leaking into the atmosphere?

During most of our petroleum production era, NatGas was not the main source of our drilling efforts. It has been "flared" off or burned until crude oil production from a well could be established. Since there is more NatGas than oil, when the oil wells were close enough to a NatGas customer, it was piped to areas for use. Fairly recently, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) has been shipped to customers from more remote regions. Shipping LNG requires pretty solid contracts, because NatGas is so plentiful, a customer could shop providers and build a dedicated pipeline.

This is where the new shale deposits of NatGas enter the picture. has a good article on Marcellus shale.

The map above borrowed from, shows that Marcellus shale is perfectly located for use near high population areas of the East coast of the US. It also shows the depth of the shale formations. One thing I do not hear discussed by the talking heads is the proximity and depth of the NatGas to be produced by the Marcellus shale drilling operations. While there is bound to be some leakage, the short distance needed for transport and the depth of the formations will tend to reduce the percentage leakage. At the formation depths, Fracking, which is just tight formation fracturing as I have discussed before, leakage due to the process of "fracking" is about the stupidest conversation I have witnessed on the internet. If someone has a sensible, intelligent explanation of why fracking Marcellus shale is a problem, I would love to hear it. Now normal drilling practice, is something else. Is there excess leakage at the well head? Is there ground water pollution? Did the drillers get your cousin drunk? There is nothing unusual about Fracking, it has been used for decades both for oil and gas. So add, "Fracking is bad" to your bullshit detector.

So if shale formation gas production is bad for the environment boils down to just two things, is the top side drilling operation sufficiently tight and is the piping infrastructure up to the job? As for the infrastructure, most of the NatGas will be used for power generation. That means dedicated piping and demand use. Instead of storing the Natgas, it can be left in the formations and used as needed. That "greatly" reduces potential leakage. Greatly is in quotes because that is a bullshit detector trigger. I don't know how much "greatly" is in this case. I do know that new piping and less secondary storage will leak less than old crap. Also there have been some big leaks caused by trying to store gas in underground formations that the gas didn't come out of. So do your own research!

Anyway, the whole NatGas thing really is just normal stuff blown out of proportion. The 100 year old NatGas infrastructure sucks. The old infrastructure is not rated for modern pressures and is not designed for hydrogen enriched gas. That will be the next aw shit moment. And old equipment ain't as good as new equipment, most of the time. It is just normal engineering stuff. Don't kill the plentiful source, deal with the issues.

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