Re: [asa] vast new gas supplies

From: Bill Powers <>
Date: Mon Dec 07 2009 - 09:41:33 EST


I tend to agree with you that energy depletion, in the long haul, is a
more limiting and destablizing problem than AGW, even though there is,
according to the current wisdom, some relationship.

But I wonder about the alternatives that you mention. How would a
transition to alternative sources work?

A massive shift from fossil fuels would require (you tell me) vast
supplies of solar panels, wind and perhaps water turbines. This presumes,
of course, that US current energy usage would remain somewhat constant,
and this is not to mention that most of the world would like to do
likewise, perhaps multiplying global energy usage by what? (10?)

The first problem I forsee is where we are going to get the energy to
produce all of these solar panels and turbines. It will have to be
gotten, at least in the beginning, and perhaps for a very long time
afterwards, by fossil fuels. It would seem that this would only increase
our energy usage for some time.

I wonder whether there have been any crude estimates as to what global
energy usage would have to be were we to gather the bulk of our energy
from solar radiation (that would include wind).

I worked for many years in ICF research (Inertial Confinement Fusion). For
a long time, at least 15 years, this program has not been taken
seriously as an alternative energy source, and sold instead as a high
energy (think weapons) research program. As with all research, whether it
be AGW or the like, funding requirements demand appropriate marketing to
the customer, and only distantly related to the client.

There are still some that believe ICF or, more generally, DT implosion can
be a workable alternative to the "energy crisis." I have no idea where
such ideas sit today, nor whether anyone is getting the attention of
funding agencies. The problem, of course, is not merely that we have no
theoretically implementable system, but that, were we to have one, would
it be too expensive to construct. Expensive here means that it takes more
energy to construct on a large scale than the energy it would supply. The
latter is perhaps unlikely since were we ever to discover a practical
implementation, it would supply our energy needs for some time to come.

What I hope will happen is that we humans will learn to prosper, and by
this I mean the bulk of us, using perhaps 1/100th of the energy we are
presently using. This may mean many things. Do we really need all the
cars we have to live well? What else can we do without that would
significantly reduce energy usage and yet allow us to thrive. It matters
little to me that our life expectancy might lower. How old must we live?
What is it that we "must" have? I would say we could do without the vast
amount of most of the telecommunications industry. But I don't really
think they use much of the energy.

Anyway, just some thoughts.


  On Mon, 7 Dec 2009, David Clounch wrote:

> I think of it in terms of what is available. When will it be depleted and
> when will that sub-industry collapse, leaving humanity without energy? Of
> course there will be economic collapse long before actual depletion.
> Unless there are vast new sources of uranium we don't yet know about I don't
> see a long term answer to energy supply.
> This leaves us with:
> Solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, hydroelectric. Possibly fusion. Possibly
> extra-terrestrial sources.
> I don't think GW is the real issue. I think peak energy is the real issue.
> It is that crisis which we must survive.
> On Mon, Dec 7, 2009 at 2:33 AM, Don Winterstein <>wrote:
>> Dave,
>> I follow this stuff only at a distance, but perhaps I can make useful
>> comments to guide a few thoughts about the respective peaks. If you want
>> someone who follows this stuff closely, contact Glenn Morton at
>> *Peak oil*: On July 9, 2009, Burgy posted a note to this list saying peak
>> oil had occurred July 11, 2008. Production has dropped since then and
>> probably has not risen to its previous peak. His note contained a forwarded
>> discussion from Post Carbon Institute that presented their reasoning.
>> However, there are several reasons why this date may not mark the ultimate
>> peak, one of which is the current recession. Another possible reason
>> is that the Saudis recognized prior to that date that oil was not really
>> selling at the prevailing very high prices; hence they may have cut back
>> their own production or at least changed their minds about increasing it,
>> thus diminishing production in advance of the recession.
>> In response to Burgy's note I mentioned that both Iraq and Iran very likely
>> have the potential (but maybe not the will or suitable political
>> environment) to raise world production beyond its former peak. A recent
>> large discovery in Brazil has some people saying Brazil may also become
>> a significant world-class contributor ("Saudi Arabia of the Western
>> Hemisphere").
>> About 5 years ago Chevron and Exxon corporate managers predicted peak oil
>> in more like 2020 or 2030.
>> *Peak nuclear:* Assuming we leave out breeder reactors, a most relevant
>> consideration is the price of uranium. If other sources of clean energy
>> don't live up to their promise, uranium may fetch a very high price. If it
>> does, the search for it will greatly intensify. Any peak will strongly
>> depend on how successful further exploration is, and on that I
>> can't intelligently speculate.
>> *Peak gas:* Website
>> shows
>> gas production does not seem to follow a curve like the famous oil
>> production curve of M. King Hubbert--which has a well-defined peak, but
>> instead shows an almost monotonic increase. I suspect the
>> discovery that abundant gas is available from shale will cause this curve
>> to keep increasing for a long time; but this will happen only if the price
>> of gas (think demand) remains high enough to drive increases in production.
>> Ultimately there should be a curve for gas that looks similar to the Hubbert
>> curve for oil, but if so, its peak looks to be a long way off. That could
>> change if demand surges and gas is produced at much higher rates.
>> *Peak coal:* Richard Heinberg, who's authored a book that covers this
>> topic (*Blackout: Coal, Climate and the Last Energy Crisis*), says peak
>> coal is less than two decades away. I haven't read it and don't know his
>> assumptions. The world has stupendous quantities of coal, but much of it
>> will not be economic to produce. Cap and trade may greatly diminish demand
>> for coal and therby accelerate the date of peak production. (Glenn Morton
>> has better-informed thoughts on this.)
>> These peaks depend strongly on economic conditions, possibilities of major
>> new discoveries, exploitation of currently under-exploited reserves (e.g.,
>> Iran & Iraq), new technology, and government regulations. With advances
>> like the discovery that abundant gas is available from shale, peak oil may
>> lose much of its fearsomeness. If the world is successful in quickly
>> ramping up solar, wind, or *ethanol from cellulose* technologies, peaks of
>> all kinds of non-renewable energy resources may become much less important.
>> But that's a big "if."
>> Don
>> *Sent:* Thursday, July 09, 2009 9:01 AM
>> *Subject:* [asa] Peak Oil day was July 11. 2008
>> ----- Original Message -----
>> *From:* David Clounch <>
>> *To:* Don Winterstein <>
>> *Cc:* asa <>
>> *Sent:* Saturday, December 05, 2009 2:20 PM
>> *Subject:* Re: [asa] vast new gas supplies
>> Don,
>> I have a question. If we consider peak oil, peak nuclear, peak gas, and
>> peak coal, what are the projected dates for each of these?
>> I am assuming peak nuclear is a function of available uranium ore. So
>> unless we have a robust breeder reactor program, there will be a peak.
>> Thanks,
>> Dave C
>> On Sun, Dec 6, 2009 at 5:37 AM, Don Winterstein <>wrote:
>>> I've finally been able to speak with someone who's directly involved
>>> with gas production from shales. He's not a "recognized authority" on the
>>> subject, but previous interactions have taught me he keeps closely in touch
>>> with industry trends, and his assessments are generally reliable. So I'll
>>> share.
>>> First, big oil is getting involved in this play (contrary
>>> to my speculations below). He tells me Exxon is pursuing rights in Germany,
>>> and Chevron is trying to get up to speed in the US. But small companies
>>> were indeed the ones that got the ball rolling.
>>> Second, with gas prices as high as they were initially, wells were
>>> productive enough that companies were able to cover their costs and start
>>> profiting after only a year. However, they were victims of their own
>>> success: The abundance of the gas they produced caused prices to plummet,
>>> so the wells are no longer so profitable. But the (energy out)/(energy in)
>>> ratio promises to be considerably greater than 1.0 for most wells.
>>> Longer term this shale gas production should have major environmental
>>> benefits. As the Business Week article pointed out, some power generation
>>> in the US has already switched from coal to gas because of the new abundance
>>> and low prices. My contact thinks the major environmental benefits will
>>> come in China, where some proposed coal power plants may now be able to
>>> switch over to gas.
>>> In context of the energy catastrophy that Glenn Morton and others have
>>> predicted will follow peak oil, the ability to produce abundant gas from
>>> shale should go a long way towards letting economies down softly rather than
>>> catastrophically.
>>> Don
>>> ----- Original Message -----
>>> *From:* Don Winterstein <>
>>> *To:* John Burgeson (ASA member) <>
>>> *Cc:* asa <>
>>> *Sent:* Wednesday, November 18, 2009 11:57 PM
>>> *Subject:* Re: [asa] vast new gas supplies
>>> Speaking on the basis of my industry experience (but otherwise out of
>>> ignorance), I believe big oil will steer clear of these shale plays, because
>>> their overhead is too high for the high level of hassle and relatively small
>>> production likely from individual shale wells. I visualize many small
>>> companies drilling thousands of wells primarily to feed local utilities.
>>> How much they can produce and how fast will depend strongly on (among
>>> several other things) the number of wells drilled. That number in
>>> principle can be very large for this kind of play.
>>> Since government presumably is not subsidizing this production (as it
>>> subsidizes ethanol from corn, for example), the fact that companies are
>>> pursuing this play is good circumstantial evidence that returns exceed
>>> costs, where costs include, besides energy input, company overhead, land
>>> leasing, royalties, taxes and no doubt several other things. There's also
>>> possible benefit from turning one kind of energy into a more useful kind.
>>> An important facet of gas from shale is that it opens the possibility that
>>> many areas of the country formerly without hydrocarbon production may now be
>>> able to get their energy from local wells.
>>> Don
>>> ----- Original Message -----
>>> *From:* John Burgeson (ASA member) <>
>>> *To:* Don Winterstein <>
>>> *Cc:* asa <>
>>> *Sent:* Wednesday, November 18, 2009 9:56 AM
>>> *Subject:* Re: [asa] vast new gas supplies
>>> Glenn and I (and others) have had some dialog on this, although not
>>> recently.
>>> The gut issues are twofold:
>>> 1. How fast can these supplies be drawn? Analogy -- if you have
>>> $10,000,000 in the bank, but can only withdraw $10 a day, you are not
>>> "rich."
>>> 2. How much energy does it take to extract gas energy? If it takes 1.1
>>> BTU of energy to extract 1.0 BTU, that is not a good deal.
>>> I don't pretend to have the answers to this -- just pointing out two
>>> of the questions that must be asked.
>>> On 11/18/09, Don Winterstein <> wrote:
>>>> The Colorado School of Mines report is at
>>>> .
>>>> This report tells me (between the lines) that some of these huge
>>> claimed
>>>> reserves are somewhat more speculative--read "possibly impractical or
>>>> inaccessible"--than I thought.
>>>> Don
>>>> ----- Original Message -----
>>>> From: Don Winterstein<<>
>>>> To: asa< <>>
>>>> Sent: Tuesday, November 17, 2009 9:37 PM
>>>> Subject: [asa] vast new gas supplies
>>>> New applications of old technology have dramatically raised estimates
>>> of
>>>> producible US gas supplies. According to Business Week (10/19/09), a
>>>> Colorado School of Mines report claims US reserves may be as high as
>>> 1800
>>>> TCF (trillion cubic feet), equivalent to 320 billion barrels of oil, or
>>> more
>>>> than Saudi Arabia's known reserves. Most of this amount at this point
>>>> exists only as speculation, but the reality is that known producible
>>>> reserves have gone up 39% in the past two years--as the price of gas has
>>>> plummeted.
>>>> Oil companies have known for decades that huge quantities of methane
>>>> existed in US sedimentary rock, and they've tried mostly in vain to
>>> produce
>>>> it economically. Much of the earlier effort attempted to extract gas
>>> from
>>>> tight (relatively impermeable) sandstones. The new reserves instead are
>>> in
>>>> shale, a kind of rock seldom thought to make good reservoirs.
>>> Production
>>>> involves a combination of two old technologies, drilling wells
>>> horizontally
>>>> and then hydraulically fracturing the rock. Hydraulic fracturing
>>> involves
>>>> pumping fluids and proppants into wells at high enough pressures to
>>> crack
>>>> the rock in situ. The proppants, which are hard particles carried into
>>>> formations by the fluids, get wedged in cracks and hold them open to
>>> give a
>>>> lasting increase in permeability.
>>>> Use of this technology is not limited to the US but should be
>>> applicable
>>>> to many shales worldwide. Shale is the most common kind of sedimentary
>>>> rock, and much of it is known to contain methane.
>>>> Don
>>> --
>>> Burgy

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Received on Mon Dec 7 09:51:17 2009

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