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Sunday, June 26, 2005

Natural Gas Cliff

Big Gav points to a Reuters article quoting the biggest "put the best face forward" big oil spokesman, CEO Lee Raymond of Exxon/Mobil, who realistically admits "Gas production has peaked in North America".

The USA has gone over a peak once before, specifically pertaining to oil production in the early 70's. However, because of the long tails of oil depletion, e.g. stripper wells producing for years beyond their prime, we can't necessarily depend on the smooth glide path of the last 30 years. (smooth glide path? yes, see the following quote)
North American natural gas production is about to go over a cliff, decades before the world peak of natural gas production. Since gas flows through porosities in rock much more easily than oil, gas fields can be drained much faster than oil fields. For this reason, and since most known gas fields in North America are connected to a common network of pipelines, the exhaustion of individual gas fields is masked until the totality of fields cannot meet demand. Since most of the gas fields in North America were discovered and came under exploitation decades ago, the whole North American gas supply will be only a few years from complete exhaustion when the first shortages are encountered. The cliff is very close, as you can see from the following graph of time-shifted discoveries (source: Forecasting future production from past discovery). The red curve is not in itself a prediction. It is the graph of past discoveries shifted to the right by 20 years--a shift chosen to give a good fit with production history. Gas must be discovered before it can be produced. Applying this basic truth allows us to conclude that North America approaches a gas production cliff.


We should ask a New Zealander how falling off a cliff felt.

5 Comments:

Professor Blogger monkeygrinder said...

Ouch. Things are looking grim: We are 5-7 years away from the first new LNG terminals (if they are built) and 7-12 years away from the first new nuclear plants (if they are built),

and now we are talking electricity instead of liquid fuels.

Well, at least the sun still works.

10:26 PM  
Professor Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

Okay, that's petroleum in short supply and gas about to fall off a cliff (which will drive more demand to petroleum).

How fast can we move electric generation to coal?  That will take some of the load off natural gas, and buy time.

6:44 AM  
Professor Blogger Matt said...

E-P,

I've been wondering that myself. I know we use coal for power, but if I remember correctly, it's not for that large of a precentage. Can coal make up the difference? Coal is so nasty, but since Nuclear (also not so great) is not happening any time soon, it might be our only option for keeping the lights on. I've been trying to put together a post about coal reserves and such in the US. I heard Kunstler in a radio interview saying that his research suggests that there may not be as much coal in the ground as we thought. Does anyone know about this? Is it an industry attempt to raise prices and get environmental concessions or is it the truth?

9:57 AM  
Professor Blogger SW said...

I've heard Bartlett at CU do a back of the envelope calculation for coal and a moderate growth rate coming up with something like 50 years before production peaks and begins to decline. Nothing like the 500 (250 million sez the idiot!) that keeps getting batted around).

11:25 AM  
Professor Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

(I hate having to edit the blasted URL to make comments come up in the same tab instead of launching a window I don't want with the wrong text size and everything.  Foo.)

Matt:  Try 51% of 2003 US electric generation fueled by coal.  (I have just added the EIA to my list of important links.)

Converting all US transport to electric and assuming neither battery losses nor efficiency gains (might be a wash) would require about 180 GW average, or ~1580 billion kWh per year.  That's about 80% of what we get from coal, so we'd have to increase generation by 80% (minus whatever we can offset using wind and the like); if we boosted efficiency by 20% using IGCC, we'd only need 50% more coal.

This would be a big job, but it looks feasible.

5:59 PM  

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