The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has released two frequently referenced studies on the future of major energy sources titled The Future of Nuclear Power (2003 with update in 2009) and The Future of Coal (2007). The most recent installment in the series is titled The MIT Study on The Future of Natural Gas. The study will be officially released today, June 25, 2010.
Matt Wald of the New York Times has apparently seen an advance copy of the document. He has published an article for this morning’s paper titled Study Says Natural Gas Use Likely to Double. Here is Matt’s lede:
Natural gas will provide an increasing share of America’s energy needs over the next several decades, doubling its share of the energy market to 40 percent, from 20 percent, according to a report to be released Friday by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The increase, the report concluded, will come largely at the expense of coal and will be driven both by abundant supplies of natural gas — made more available by shale drilling — and by measures to restrict the carbon dioxide emissions that are linked to climate change.
Matt makes special note in his article that the American Clean Skies Foundation provided part of the funding for the study and he noted that the American Clean Skies Foundation represented natural gas interests.
I did a bit of additional searching and learned that the study also received funding from the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI). MITEI contracted with The MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change to provide analytical support for The MIT Study on The Future of Natural Gas.
When I checked the page listing the members of MITEI, I was “shocked” to learn that list included many organizations that were at least as interested in the effects of a study about the size of the future market for both natural gas and the equipment used to extract and consume natural gas as the American Clean Skies Foundation. Here is the top portion of the list (stated on the web site as being current as of September 2009.)
Founding Members ($5 Million per year for 5 years)
– BP Technology Ventures Inc.
– Eni SpA
Founding Public Member ($5 Million per year for 5 years)
– Masdar Institute of Science and Technology
Sustaining Members ($1 Million per year for 5 years)
– ABB Research Ltd.
– Robert Bosch GmbH
– Chevron USA Inc.
– Enel Produzione SpA
– Lockheed Martin
– Saudi Aramco
Sustaining Public Member ($1 Million per year for 5 years)
– Portuguese Science and Technology Foundation
Associate Members ($100,000 per year for 5 years)
– Agencia Nacional de Hidrocarburos (ANH), Colombia
– Fundacio Barcelona Tecnologia (b_TEC)
I copied that list here, just in case the original source changes or disappears from public view. If you go to the current page of the MITEI members list, you will find that there are short summaries of the organizations listed that describe what they do and why they might be interested in understanding what the future market for natural gas might be. Not only do the primary funding sources for the MITEI have financial interests in knowing what credible researchers think about the size of their future markets, but they also have a financial stake in funding work that can increase the size of the market by telling political decision makers that increasing natural gas consumption is almost inevitable.
Of course, there are a couple of organizations listed (EDF and Entergy) that might have some competing interests, but those organizations are minor contributors (associate members contribute just $500,000 over 5 years vice $25 million over five years for the founding members) and they do not sit on any of the decision making panels and boards that govern the MITEI.
I am looking forward to reading the study and seeing how the authors choose the words and numbers to make the case that the rate of natural gas use will double in the next few decades. I wonder how the researchers treated the potential effects of supply versus demand imbalances and price pressures? I wonder if they noticed that “clean natural gas” has recently been the source of at least three large, deadly, and – in at least one case – environmentally devastating explosions?