The London REE Report: Green Energy

For better or worse, our governments have all signed up to promote renewable carbon light energy. Even China and India, they just won’t agree to sign up to a western imposed quota and timetable. But both countries agree in principal on doing their part to adopt renewable, greener energy. Wind power, solar energy, tidal energy, water turbines, natural gas, oil, coal, nuclear power those are the energy options but most aren’t green energy.

I know I’ve left off some exotic possibilities like flywheels, and energy recapture systems and hydrogen, but I wanted to cover realistic energy systems that are likely to happen in my lifetime, and poor Graeme is already 60 years old.

Wind, solar, tidal, water, and natural gas, generally qualify as greener, carbon light possibilities with a realistic chance of making a difference in the current decade. Nuclear too, if the world overlooks that it’s leaving behind radiation pollution problem for future generations, for the sake of about 40 years of electric power generation. For my purpose today, I will leave it out, as I will so called “clean coal” solutions via carbon capture and ground injection. Wind, solar, tidal, and water power generation all involve heavy usage of rare earths and metals, generating electric power from natural gas doesn’t. So in theory, natural gas ought to be a serious competitor, and a drag on getting too carried away with our rare metals story.

Happily for those in rare metals investment and business, sadly for everyone else, natural gas isn’t quite as clean, green, and competitive as at first sight. After the BP fiasco in the Gulf of Mexico, a lot more challenge is now in store for natural gas projects, and I suspect that under increased scrutiny, natural gas’s challenge will end up fading fast. In America, no one wants a liquified natural gas plant in their backyard, so this way of getting natural gas seems of limited use. After the Deepwater Horizon blew up, that’s probably just as well. As North American demand for gas grew, conventional supply peaked out, and the balance was only restored by a newer technology that allowed for gas shale rock to be horizontally drilled and then hydraulically fractured (fracked.) Gas was a serious competitor again from 2005.

But now it’s all started to go wrong. Natural gas from shale has started to become a Frankenstein monster of unintended consequences. Aquifers are becoming polluted, water tables drop. In some places land subsidence has unexpectedly occurred, lakes and tailing ponds disappeared. This method of producing natural gas is about to get the deepwater oil scrutiny treatment. Which is a long winded roundabout London way of my saying, that only wind, solar, tidal, and water are really in the game. Like it or not, and of course the rare metals blog we like it, rare metals and green energy have a future. I’ll end with Scientific American and Vanity Fair getting on Nat Gas’s case. Would 9 million New Yorkers really mind if their water starts to taste off, and can be lit in a jar with a match? Graeme will wisely leave the fracking puns to Vanity Fair.

Concerns Spread over Environmental Costs of Producing Shale Gas

“Around suppertime on June 3 in Clearfield County, Pa., a geyser of natural gas and sludge began shooting out of a well called Punxsutawney Hunting Club 36. The toxic stew of gas, salt water, mud and chemicals went 75 feet into the air for 16 hours. Some of this mess seeped into a stream northeast of Pittsburgh.

Four days later, as authorities were cleaning up the debris in Pennsylvania, an explosion burned seven workers at a gas well on the site of an abandoned coal mine outside of Moundsville, W.Va., just southwest of Pittsburgh.

The back-to-back emergencies were like a five-alarm fire for John Hanger, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. For a brief moment, the cable news channels turned their attention away from the BP PLC oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico to the apparent trouble in the nation's expanding onshore natural gas fields.

The events added force to a tough public debate in Pennsylvania and New York and across northern Appalachia about how the environmental impacts of gas drilling balance against the economic benefits of gas and the role it could play in helping electric utilities transition to cleaner fuels.”

A Colossal Fracking Mess

The dirty truth behind the new natural gas. Related: A V.F. video look at a town transformed by fracking.

More tomorrow.

Graeme Irvine. London.