Can we count on cheap natural gas for decades to come?

Michael Giberson

The new U.S. gas triumphalists say the gas resource supply picture has changed, shale gas has saved us from importing lots of expensive LNG, we’ve got tons and tons of gas now and for years to come, and public policy ideas based on the idea of diminishing supplies of ever more costly gas need to be replaced.

Not so fast, a few analysts are saying. A few recent examples:

Both suggest, among other things, that gas may be cheap now but it won’t be cheap later, so don’t let your public policy (or your private long term investments) get hooked on cheap gas.

The Our Finite World piece is the less-sound of the two. It seems to add up to a claim that gas is so cheap that it doesn’t pay to invest in more production capacity, and if no one invests in more production capacity supplies will run down, and then gas will not be cheap anymore. So watch out! There are many informative charts in the post.

The Financial Times column essential comes down to a view that shale gas resources won’t yield as much gas as proponents believe, and ultimately the U.S. is going to find itself back on the tail end of a very expensive LNG supply chain. The story ends on an ominous note, suggesting that if we don’t hurry to line up LNG supply contracts now at twice the current price of gas in the U.S., then China might grab those supplies first.

I guess I’m still more in the gas triumphalist camp. My evidence is rather weak, admittedly: a combination of observing current market conditions (have you compared the price of gas to the price of oil lately?), reading about gas reserves and technology, some general understanding of economics, and a tendency toward “cornucopian” rather than “Malthusian” sentiments on long-run resource issues. (I can be convinced otherwise, but it will probably take a few years more of data from shale gas wells to make much a dent in my current beliefs.)

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3 thoughts on “Can we count on cheap natural gas for decades to come?

  1. There are plenty of folks cheering for gas now, though typically as a “bridge fuel”. I refer to those folks as “bridge fools”, because there is no way investors would put up the funds necessary for the massive expansion of the natural gas transmission system required to move the incremental “bridge fuel” to the new gas CCT plants which would consume it. There is also no way investors would provide the funds necessary to build the new “bridge” CCT plants.

    The typical “bridge fuel” scenario is ~20 years, roughly the half-life of the facilities necessary to “build” the bridge. Therefore, the investors would end up “holding the bag”. The depreciation rates for the “bridge” facilities could be doubled to account for the shortened useful life of the facilities, but that would adversely impact their competitiveness.

    Natural gas cannot and should not be the “let’s do everything with it until it runs out” fuel.

  2. As per usual the biggest problem is the “environmentalists” and lawyers, who want to stop drilling for gas, because it will throw a monkey wrench into their plans to turn the bitter clingers into docile peasants.

    Question for the day: “How can you have a GDP, if you don’t produce anything?”

  3. Fat Man,

    Our “domestic” bureaucracy and its associated red tape are certainly “gross”. I gather you don’t believe they have much value as “product”. :-)

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