T. Boone Pickens. Image via Wikipedia
T. Boone Pickens recently announced that U.S. spending on foreign oil rose to $39.9 billion for the month of March 2011. Pickens’ number is based on information from the Federal Reserve Economic Database, which showed that the U.S. imported 72 percent of its oil, or 348 million barrels. Pickens noted that the $39.9 billion, compared to just $18 billion spent on foreign oil in March 2009, shows that the US is becoming more dependent on foreign oil.
Pickens is pushing for the country to move away from reliance on foreign oil by increasing its domestic production of natural gas, which is in abundant supply. However, environmentalists have raised concerns over both emissions during production and potential contamination of groundwater.
“If you’re going to solve the foreign oil crisis you must focus on transportation – using our own abundant natural gas resources to fuel heavy-duty trucks can immediately reduce our dependence on OPEC oil; improving our national security while strengthening our economy,” argues Pickens.
The Pickens Plan to encourage more heavy duty fleet vehicles to run on domestic resources is included in the NAT Gas Act, which was just introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman John Sullivan (R-OK), Congressman Dan Boren (D-OK), Congressman John Larson (D-CT) and Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX). The legislation enjoys broad bipartisan support.
Texas Barnett Shale gas drilling rig near Alvarado TX. Image via Wikipedia
Opponents of natural gas production are heralding the release of a new study that finds hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the process used to break apart underground shale deposits with high pressure water and chemicals in order to release shale gas, generates at least 20% more greenhouse gases than coal.
Previously, opponents had rallied around the threat the process posed to water supplies. Some studies have found possible evidence that hydrofracking fluids can contaminate water aquifers. The industry, meanwhile, argues these findings.
The new study, conducted by scientists at Cornell University, evaluated the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas obtained by fracking. They found that the small amounts of methane gas, a greenhouse gas with greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, escaping to the atmosphere from venting and leaks over the life of a well is 30% higher than emissions from conventional gas. Since the greatest danger of methane leaks is during the initial fracking process, the emissions are greatest in the short-term. The study found emissions to be 20% greater than coal on a 20-year comparison, but comparable to coal over 100 years. The study notes that although the uncertainty of fugitive emissions is large, it illustrates the larger need for published and consistent pollution measurement by the gas industry. So far the industry has fought such measures.
Meanwhile, critics of the Cornell study are crying foul over the uncertainties and pointing to the advantages clean-burning gas has over coal. Energy in Depth, an association of independent producers, has posted a rebuttal to the study. And Tom Zeller, Jr. has posted a thoughtful post about the debate on the New York Times’ Green Blog. With the future of nuclear power up in the air, the debate over natural gas is an important one.
You can read a PDF of the Cornell study here.
CNBC has posted an interview with Chevron CEO John Watson, in which he discusses Chevron’s growth plan. The company is slated to spend $26 billion in capital expenditures, up 20% from last year. Of particular interest are his comments on natural gas, which Chevron has focused on. Currently, natural gas is trading at a 75% discount to crude oil and the U.S. has abundant supplies, enough to last for over 100 years according to the Energy Information Administration. In addition, President Obama recently endorsed the plan of T. Boone Pickens to convert heavy-duty vehicles to run on natural gas instead of diesel. There have been concerns over the development of these resources, however, due to possible pollution linked to the process of hydraulic fracturing.
You can watch the video here.