Steel Requirements for Natural Gas Pipeline Construction

At Nuclear Talk, Gail Marcus has shared information from a recent presentation provided by Jason Tolland, Counsellor for Environment and Energy at the Canadian Embassy. The audience was a group of folks who graduated from MIT; the topic was the Canadian-US energy relationship.

The title of Gail’s post is LNG and Gas Pipeline Requirements: Nuclear Power Is Not Alone. Among other topics, it discusses the resource limitations that affect this politically popular form of energy production. It reminded me of a recent post by Barry Brook of Brave New Climate titled TCASE 4: Energy system build rates and material inputs that computed the resource requirements associated with wind and solar energy. He showed in that post how it takes ten times as much steel and concrete per unit energy produced to get electricity from wind turbines as from nuclear power plants.

Gail’s post did not include the computational details that Barry’s did, but it did include one statement that should overcome claims that a vast increase in dependence on natural gas can be realized easier, with less resource constraints than an increase in nuclear energy production.

Even more surprisingly, to me, is what he told us about the planned 1220 kilometer MacKenzie natural gas pipeline from the Northwest Territories. He noted that the total steel requirement for that pipeline would exceed the annual world production of steel. (Emphasis added.) Of course, it wouldn’t be built in one year, but that’s still a staggering amount of steel, and is bound to have an impact on availability and prices of steel for other purposes.

Update: Based on comments received, it appears that I need to do some additional research to validate the claim above. One back of the envelope computation showed that the pipes for a 1220 km natural gas pipeline would only consume about 0.1% of the world’s total steel production. Please do not use the quote without doing some additional computation.

Update: (Posted on Nov 12, 2009 at 0157) There is an update on Nuke Power Talk about the steel requirements claim. Thank you to all of the commenters who helped us understand the numbers and realize that building even a long gas pipeline does not materially impact the world’s annual steel production. My lesson relearned is that the world is a very large place with a lot of industrial activity in progress. A second lesson relearned is that energy is a complex issue that requires constant learning, study and mathematics.

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