Why America Should Be Driving on Natural Gas

Should America Be Driving on Natural Gas? As the popular uprising against Hosni Mubarak's three-decade dictatorship in Egypt demonstrates again, political and social conditions in the Middle East can change quickly, and unpredictably.

Given that, does it make sense for the world's largest economy to be so dependent on an energy source -- oil -- from a region where a supply disruption is always distinct possibility? One would think not, but that has been this nation's circumstance for a considerable portion of the automobile age. It's only recently that any sign of willingness has appeared for switching to alternative fuels and lowering America's dependence on imported oil.

Even with increased domestic drilling, the U.S. wouldn't be able to pump its daily consumption of 18.7 million barrels per day, so the nation has to import fuel to make up the difference. In November 2010, the country imported an average of 8.25 million barrels per day (bpd), about 2 million of which came from Middle East oil producers, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data.

Is there a better energy way -- one that would make the nation more energy self-sufficient and enhance its foreign policy flexibility?

There could be, in domestic natural gas.

A Century's Worth of Home-Grown Fuel

Barring a breakthrough in battery technology, the only domestic energy source that can make a serious run at ending oil's dominance as a transportation fuel in the U.S. in the decade ahead is natural gas. It's abundant, price competitive, cleaner and amply available domesticly.

Abundance is perhaps its most appealing advantage. The Potential Gas Committee (PGC) estimated that the U.S. had 1,836 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of recoverable natural gas as of 2008, out of a total future natural gas resource base of 2,074 Tcf, which would meet the nation's natural gas demand for about 100 years, based on the current consumption rate.

Of the 22.8 Tcf of natural gas the U.S. consumed in 2009, 90% was produced here. (Leading producer states: Texas, 30%; Alaska, 12%; Wyoming, 10%; Oklahoma, 7%). And most imports of dry natural gas came from a reliable trading partner: Canada.

However, while natural gas has made it to the big time as an energy source for industrial, commercial and residential uses, it hasn't played a large role as a transportation fuel, except for bus fleets and other institutional fleets.

Size Matters -- and So Does Access

One major reason is its lack of compactness. Although large vehicles, such as buses and vans and some trucks, can accommodate the large tanks natural gas requires, small cars and modest-size SUVs can't without displacing volume from features that car buyers desire for other uses -- most often trunk and cargo space.

A second issue is the lack of natural-gas filling stations. More are being added each month, but with only 1,100 stations in the U.S., compared to more than 160,000 gasoline stations, gas or diesel are orders of magnitude more convenient.

Those two factors probably mean that public policy would have to encourage natural gas fuel use, if its role as a transportation fuel is to increase.Without a significant push from Washington, U.S. drivers are unlikely to ditch their ingrained gasoline habits any time soon, even if gasoline cost substantially more on a per mile basis than natural gas.

Targeted assistance could help. New vehicle designs are shifting natural-gas tanks to spots below the vehicle frame -- a more rational location that takes advantage of dead space, leaving the trunk area free. Federal tax policy subsidizing design research would likely speed the development and introduction of new natural gas powered vehicles.

A friendly tax policy, along with modest subsidies for natural-gas filling station companies, could also help speed the construction of a ubiquitous station network.

Price Competitive with Gasoline?

Long term, the critical factor for U.S. motorists is likely to be price. Natural-gas critics correctly point out that the current price of natural gas low -- about $2.50 per gasoline gallon equivalent in Los Angeles, and about $2.30 in New York City -- would likely rise substantially if drivers shifted in large numbers to natural gas. Of the 12 million natural-gas vehicles in use globally, only 110,000 are in the U.S., which has seen their use increase at a 3.7% average rate since 2000, according to industry booster cngnow.com.

The natural counterargument is to ask: What's likely happen to the price of gasoline in the years ahead? The International Energy Agency sees global oil demand rising in 2011-2012 as economic expansions continue worldwide. It could be wrong, and demand could unexpectedly drop, putting downward pressure on oil's price, currently about $91 per barrel.

But how likely is a sustained oil price retreat, given rising demand in emerging-market economies, such as China? Barclays forecasts that oil may top $100 a barrel in 2011 as global demand accelerates, Bloomberg News reported Thursday.

Can the U.S. Depend on International Oil Producers?

Still, even a relatively stable or declining price for oil wouldn't eliminate the major liability of U.S. oil consumption: the risk of major supply disruptions. As events in the Middle East have repeatedly demonstrated, oil production in this region is subject to sustained periods of interruption.

How high could such a disruption push the price of oil? $150 per barrel? $200 per barrel? And if political instability were to hit a major supplier such as Saudi Arabia, would the U.S. be able to buy enough oil to meet its daily requirement? This is a major economic vulnerability.

For that reason alone, wider use of natural gas as a transportation fuel makes sense.

Yes, oil will remain an essential fuel in the decade ahead, but in an energy future in which supply reliability may become just as important as price, natural gas could provide an American solution to an uncertain international energy landscape.

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Apparently this idiot journalist is not aware of the fact that the Oil companies have our politicians bought and paid for.......can we move on to some real news!

February 07 2011 at 4:11 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

What about the massive oil fields we have in the Northwest...or is that being exported like the Oil Pipeline that was paid for by a lot of US dollare than exported to Japan as they said it was to hard to refine here in the US, guess it ran pretty good in the Japanese vehicles though since most of it went to Asia!

February 07 2011 at 8:22 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Yoo's comment

Sorry for being so limited in my comment, I also wanted to add that we need to also keep on going with alterantive optons like wind, solar and bio fuel and the mass transit ideas suggested here are a good idea, but not totally feasible for the people outside large metro areas... have to get to the tracks somehow!

February 07 2011 at 8:28 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Short term thinking in a long term world ,must be a member
of skull and bones , let me guess Harvard grad?
I have two words for you and I think you aready Know it
yes. its Mass transit.

February 07 2011 at 5:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Look what ethenol did to food prices and feed prices! Heat homes,use natural gas water heaters,etc. These already exist. Ethenol only puts money in the pockets of those invested in that developemet. Electric cars!! Develope new ways to make electricity.

February 07 2011 at 5:45 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

its not a good idea we heat our homes with natural gas the price would double or even triple OPEC sells us 10% look elsware to buy oil and drill more here. and if you don't like drilling what do you think you will have to do to get the supply for cars

February 07 2011 at 5:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ronald Malozi

Switching to natural gas is a great idea but the lobbyists and oil companies won't let it happen.

February 07 2011 at 5:20 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Ronald Malozi's comment

Not true Mr. Malozi ,if they had that kind of control they
would have used it by now. Thats the whole problem we have no
lONG TERM ENERGY POLICY. Think of it this way this the nation
is 225 yrs. old and NG will supply 100 Yrs Gee Great.It's Like leaving
for work half the gas you need to get there,Brillent. For your
411 NG is largest supplier to the farmers, so which would you rather
run out of Food or gas for that SUV sitting in your Driveway.

February 07 2011 at 6:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

meccia says" watch the documentary Gasland and you will think twice about drinking the water because of Fracking". well i just finished watching Sicko and am now heading to cuba for all my health care needs. see you all soon

February 07 2011 at 4:20 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

What they are talking about is fracking. Absolutely fracking not. How about wind and solar power for frack's sake?

February 07 2011 at 3:52 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Mr Lazzaro

This has been brough out before but your facts are not quite straight. First people should visit the EIA site of the government. Our proven reserves are significantly less than 1836 tcf. At 23 tcf per year that is not 100 year supply. You state that we import 8.25 mmbopd. The number might be a bit higher than that. But for round numbers let us assume 9.0 mmbopd that is an additional 19.7 tcf per year. so we are at 42 tcf per year or 43 years supply. If you want to replace all gasoline cars I believe I have seen the number of 12.0 mmbopd which is approx 26.28 tcf per year. which would put us at around 49.3 tcf or about 37 years worth. Also be aware that gaseous type engines typically do not produce the same hp when converting from gasoline to gas which requires more fuel to get the same hp if that is required. Also you have not counted the energy required to recover this gas. Much of the gas in unconfirmed reserves is in shale gas which required a large number of wells that peak and fall very quickly. The amount of energy that would be required to develop more rigs, and pipe might push our needs to over 50 TCF per year. I am all for energy independence but what you are suggesting is not totally realistic and it also puts all our eggs in one basket. Once you start making demands on the gas supply it will no longer be cheap. In fact it could be more expensive in the end. I think the article has a good intent but it lacks the facts and certainly has not been completely thought through in my opinion.

February 07 2011 at 1:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to dkreh's comment
passin' through

Which is why I said to do both. Drill more of our own natural gas and oil for transportation until fuel cells or improved batteries are a reality.

February 07 2011 at 1:39 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
passin' through

I've been to Lima Peru 3 times. The last time was Jan 12 through the 23rd this year. Lima, a city of 8 million, has nearly 1 million of those natural gas vehicles mentioned in the article. Half the vehicles on the road in Lima are buses and taxis and all of them run on natural gas. They have to. Peru has literally no oil and no money to buy it but they have a great deal of natural gas. While what the article said about natural gas burning cleaner than gasoline is true, what is also true is it smells worse, a small down side.

February 07 2011 at 1:16 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply