A key objection of the UK's Tyndall Centre report on shale gas depends on a key misunderstanding about the impact of gas on electricity generation. Gas is not the enemy of renewables. In fact, current renewable solar and wind tech just won't work without gas as back up. In that sense, plentiful gas, which naturally becomes both physically secure and not open to price spikes, enables renewables. But the Tyndall Centre doesn't see it that way:
While it is possible that shale gas could substitute for coal, within the UK, this would likely be counteracted by global use of coal and shale gas
Put directly, whilst world demand for fossil fuels remains high, any new sources of fossil fuel (even if relatively low carbon per unit of useful energy) will be purchased, combusted and consequently add to the global emissions burden. It will not substitute for other fossil fuels and in this regard claiming shale gas as a viable low- carbon option for the UK cannot be reconciled with the spirit of UK commitments on climate change.
And in the final comment:
The argument that shale gas should be exploited as a transitional fuel in the move to a low carbon economy seems tenuous at best. If we look at the US, there is little evidence that shale gas is currently, or expected, to substitute for coal.
The final Tyndall Centre report by the way is pretty awful. The only positive I can say about it is that the final version, unlike the executive summary widely publicised in the UK press in November now makes no mention whatsoever about Howarth's bizarre theory of gas being worse than coal. They also quote extensively on figures from the New York State shale report of 2007 while ignoring entirely the updated summer 2011 version. I didn't realise that the Tyndall Centre is a key centre of climate change science. I'm not a denier, but the shale gas report is so badly researched, out of date and just plain wrong that it can't reflect well on the rest of their activities. But what about coal to gas substitution, which according to them simply isn't happening in the US?
Increasingly, industry watchers say, the most promising cure for the glut isn't natural gas-powered vehicles or manufacturing. It's in the declining popularity of coal, the country's dominant power plant fuel.
The federal push to limit emissions has utilities searching for cost-effective alternatives to traditional coal plants.
"We've got to find a way to increase uses for natural gas," McDowell said. "Power generation is the obvious choice."
A key point I have been making from day one here is that energy efficiency is already happening and has a widesspread impact in advanced industrial countries. Those who think that we use too much energy ignore the good news that we use it more wisely. Developing countries will naturally use more energy, but again at nowwher near the catastrophic scenarios based outdated models. Developing countries leapfrog straight into the most energy efficient heating, lighting and generation appliications that already have led to flatlining energy use in Europe and the US:
The circumstances aren't isolated. The U.S. has been cooling on natural gas heating for years, as offices and homes become more energy efficient.
Home consumption of natural gas has remained flat since 1970, though the national population has grown 50 percent.
The natural way of soaking up the excess of gas is by subsituting for coal:
Political pressure is pushing electricity generators to divorce themselves from the environmental burdens of coal and consider cleaner-burning natural gas as an alternative.
From 2005 to 2010, coal fell from 50 percent to 45 percent of the fuel used to generate power in the United States, according to the federal Energy Information Administration. Natural gas grew from 20 percent to 24 percent during that time.
Shale production has made gas plentiful. "And plentiful means cheap," said Poe Reed, chief commercial officer of CenterPoint Energy Pipelines, which transports natural gas. "It is pricing out coal in a lot of electric markets."
Several recent energy forecasts have projected that natural gas will surpass coal as the nation's primary source of power generation within three decades.
Projections by consulting firm Black & Veatch show that in 2036, coal will fuel just 16 percent of the nation's power generation while gas will rise to 44 percent.
The Environmental Protection Agency last week announced rules that more tightly limit the amount of mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants. The rules could lead to the more rapid retirement of coal plants, where the environmental standards could be too difficult or costly to meet.
"How is that void going to be filled?" Patrylak said. "From everything that I've seen, the power industry is what people see as the largest driver of natural gas demand growth."
The same political pressure is evident in China:
China, whose power utilities generate more electricity from coal than any other country, aims to boost environmental protection in its five-year plan through 2015 as it seeks to avoid “blindly” pursuing unsustainable economic growth, according to Premier Wen Jiabao. The country wants to cut carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 17 percent per unit of gross domestic product during the period, Wen said Feb. 27.
In a presentation in October, Doug Parr of UK Greenpeace said that China will keep coal at home while exporting shale gas. Quite apart from asking who on earth to in that circumstance, this shows a self-serving and willful ignorance about the reality of world gas trade.
Green opposition to shale has already been shown as flawed in it's exaggeration of environmental impacts. Judging by the Tyndall Centre's odd and uniinformed theories, opposition based on economics is even more distorted. Much of that stems from a continuing denial mode over the actual size of the shale gas resources. Simply put, the only opposition that European environmentalists have these days is to simply deny that the resources exists. Those unable to see the size of US shale resources ended up being swept into irrelevanace. European Greens could suffer the same fate. They have an important role to play in gas and energy. But it has to be one based on reality.