There is a lengthy and thought provoking article and comment thread at ProPublica titled Climate Benefits of Natural Gas May Be Overstated. It provides more data and support for a theory that I have been sharing for quite some time – much of what you hear and read about the benefits of increasing our dependence on natural gas is simply part of a well funded and well designed marketing campaign.
I added my two cents to the comment thread. After hitting post, I received a page indicating that my comment was being held for moderation. Just in case it never appears, I thought I would share it with you.
There is little doubt that the hype about hydrofracking and natural gas as a bridge fuel is a well planned effort by Big Oil to remain dominant and to discourage the investment of time and money that will be required to implement a true alternative to fossil fuel.
I am NOT talking about unreliable, weak and diffuse wind or solar – there is a good reason why BP, Chevron, Shell, and ExxonMobil spend so much of their advertising budget TALKING about those alternatives. None of them threaten their cash flow from selling oil, natural gas and coal. (By the way, natural gas comes out of essentially the same wells drilled and owned by the same companies as other forms of petroleum do.)
The real alternative to burning hydrocarbons for heat is to fission uranium, thorium and plutonium.
Those people who say that nuclear fission does not reduce oil dependence need to understand a few things about the energy market. Before nuclear, the US produced about 17% of its electricity by burning oil. That portion is approaching zero today, but ONLY because fission captured 20% of the market in about 20 years. France, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan were also strongly dependent upon oil for electrical power until they built their current nuclear fleets. Today, the UAE, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt are working feverishly to build the infrastructure that they need to replace oil and gas in electrical power plants with nuclear fission.
The US has a fleet of aircraft carriers and a fleet of submarines that consume no oil at all for propulsion or electricity – 40 years ago, the US Navy was the world’s single largest customer for the oil industry. There is no technical reason why nuclear fission cannot replace oil as the propulsion source for commercial shipping – it has a 50 year track record of success in ship propulsion.
According to the Energy Information Agency, the US still burns about a 3.8 billion gallons per year of heating oil; I live in an all electric home, so I know from direct personal experience that electricity can replace oil in heating.
The US locomotive fleet burns another 3.8 billion gallons of oil per year, but we have known how to run wires to trains for more than 100 years.
Fission is obviously a direct competitor with burning natural gas in electric power plants. It is not just a little bit less polluting; the best available studies indicate that the TOTAL lifecycle emissions from a nuclear power plant amount to about 7-17 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour compared to 600 grams for natural gas, 850 grams for oil and about 1000 grams for coal. Nuclear fission is essentially tied with wind turbines, but fission plants can run as many as 8760 hours per year at full power. (17 of the 100 nuclear plants in the US produced 100% or more of their rated power for 2010.)
When I hear anyone talk about gas as a bridge to a renewable utopia, I suspect I am listening to a natural gas salesman who knows full well that the utopia does not exist. I suspect the speaker of working to maintain the customer base of fossil fuel addicts by not letting them understand that there is a real alternative to burning hydrocarbons for heat.
Publisher, Atomic Insights
As you can tell from the context, part of the comment was aimed at responding to the frequently repeated screed from antinuclear activists that nuclear does not have a role in reducing oil consumption. That assertion is simply wrong. Heavy metal fission and hydrocarbon combustion both produce the same basic product – heat. Engineers can choose to use that heat in countless different ways. About the only places where I have trouble visualizing nuclear energy as a replacement for oil is in personal vehicles and aircraft. All other markets are fair game.