infrastructure

Mon, 2014-02-24 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Cold Weather Brings Wild Swings in Natural Gas Prices Despite Shale Gas Rush

Last year, natural gas prices hit record lows and shale gas promoters confidently predicted a bright future of stable low prices, making the fuel the best choice for home heating and electrical generation alike.

But last year was also marked by an unusually mild winter amid a still-sluggish economy. This year, cold winter weather returned across much of the U.S. – and consumers and utilities have begun to confront a strikingly different reality. Natural gas prices immediately spiked as high as $8.15/mmBTU Henry Hub this month – the most expensive prices seen since the 2008 economic collapse – as demand for power and heat surged.

And that $8.15 represents the daily price at a Louisiana pipeline hub often referenced by traders and federal energy analysts; regional prices have spiked far more dramatically. In the frigid Northeast, local prices have skyrocketed this year, with some operators paying up to $120 per mmBTU. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” one New Jersey power company executive told Bloomberg Businessweek in January. The spike’s effects have even reached as far south as East Texas, where spot prices topped $40/mmBTU, nearly reaching the highs seen in 2004 when the current onshore drilling rush began in the Barnett shale.

Keep in mind that the same amount of natural gas cost only $1.92 in April 2012.

That’s a little like suddenly finding out that a McDonalds burger that used to be 2 bucks will now cost you as much as full dinner at a five star restaurant.

These massive fluctuations in natural gas prices over the past year drive home a vital point: natural gas has always been prone to sudden booms and busts. The idea that shale gas – less than ten percent of the nation’s natural gas production and some of the most expensive to produce – could fundamentally transform the natural gas market, keeping prices consistently low, now seems more like a pipe dream than ever before.

Already, utilities and their customers are paying the price.

Fri, 2014-02-14 12:40Sharon Kelly
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New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates

Just how bad is natural gas for the climate?

A lot worse than previously thought, new research on methane leaks concludes.

Far more natural gas is leaking into the atmosphere nationwide than the Environmental Protection Agency currently estimates, researchers concluded after reviewing more than 200 different studies of natural gas leaks across North America.

The ground-breaking study, published today in the prestigious journal Science, reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has understated how much methane leaks into the atmosphere nationwide by between 25 and 75 percent — meaning that the fuel is far more dangerous for the climate than the Obama administration asserts.

The study, titled “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems,” was conducted by a team of 16 researchers from institutions including Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and is making headlines because it finally and definitively shows that natural gas production and development can make natural gas worse than other fossil fuels for the climate.

The research, which was reported in The Washington Post, Bloomberg and The New York Times, was funded by a foundation created by the late George P. Mitchell, the wildcatter who first successfully drilled shale gas, so it would be hard to dismiss it as the work of environmentalists hell-bent on discrediting the oil and gas industry.

Mon, 2013-07-22 08:10Farron Cousins
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Renewable Energy Sources Gaining Market Share

In a positive sign for United States energy consumption, a new report shows that the market share of renewable energy sources grew at a larger pace than fossil fuels for the year 2012.  Additionally, the first half of this year has seen an enormous surge in renewable energy infrastructure and generating capacity.

For 2012, a decline in the cost of solar and wind infrastructure is partly credited with the surge in use.  The International Energy Agency is now feeling more optimistic that renewable sources of energy could make up as much as 25% of global electricity generation by the year 2018.

And in another positive step for America, consumer energy consumption fell significantly in 2012, although that was in the wake of increased consumption from corporations.

A July Energy Infrastructure Update from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission says that renewable energy provided 25% of new electricity generation for the first six months of 2013.  

The increased use and infrastructure build-out become even more remarkable when you consider the attacks that have been flowing towards renewable energy standards all over the country.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) launched an all-out assault on renewable energy standards last year, managing to get at least 16 different states with imposed Renewable Portfolio Standards (rules that provide a guaranteed commitment to investment in fossil fuels) to consider legislation that would have either scaled these requirements back, or eliminated them altogether. 

Fri, 2013-01-25 06:00Farron Cousins
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Renewable Energy Capacity Surging, But America Betting On Shale Gas

A report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's Office of Energy Projects says that, in 2012, the capacity for renewable energy electrical generation accounted for almost 50% of all new installations for energy projects in the United States.  This includes solar, biomass, geothermal, and water-based generation capacity.

On top of making up nearly half of all new installation, renewable energy generation capacity also increased by 51% over the previous year.

However, generation capacity and actual electrical generation are two very different things, and total renewable generation for the year 2012 only amounted to about 13% of total energy production last year in the U.S.

The amount of renewable energy produced in the U.S. last year was slightly less than the global average of 15%, meaning that America is not too far off the mark compared to the rest of the world.  The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has set a worldwide goal of 30% renewable energy by the year 2030, but they currently remain pessimistic about the ability of countries to achieve that goal, and believe that there could be at least a nine-percentage point deficit between reality and their goal.

So why the pessimism in the face of good news from the U.S.?  The answer is shale gas.

Mon, 2012-10-08 10:25Ben Jervey
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Oil On the Tracks: How Rail Is Quietly Picking Up the Pipelines' Slack

We’ve talked a lot here on DeSmogBlog about oil (and tar sands crude) pipelines. You know, like the Keystone XL, which TransCanada is currently ramming through Texas, using whatever means necessary (including violence), and Enbridge's Northern Gateway, which was just declared “dead” by one of Canada's top newspapers.

And we’ve talked quite a bit about coal trains. All for very good reason. But we haven’t ever delved into the growing trend of shipping oil by train. Trains are a crucial – and growing – part of oil industry infrastructure, so it’s worthwhile to take a step back and get some perspective on this remarkable system. Understanding oil trains will help you understand, for instance, why oil markets are paying little attention to the pipeline debates.

Let’s start with the raw numbers.

Every week, over 17,000 carloads of oil are shipped in the U.S. and Canada. With roughly 600 to 700 barrels of oil in each carload, that’s between 1.4 and 1.6 million barrels of oil on the U.S. and Canadian rails every day. And these numbers are growing fast. This chart says it all.

Thu, 2008-12-18 09:05Chris Mooney
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Where Is Barack Obama's Global Warming Adaptation Plan?

I know, I know: If you support “adaptation” in the global warming debate, you run the risk of being mistaken for someone who opposes “mitigation.” But I’m not one of those adaptation-only Bjorn Lomborg types.

I support both capping emissions, and also getting ready for climate change, because I believe the science is clear: We have to do something, fast, to prevent the worst outcomes; but we’re already so far down the global warming path that there will be many changes we can no longer stop, and must live with - and so must prepare for.

But my question is, where is Barack Obama on all of this?

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