Green Update: There’s Gas… and Then There’s Gas

April 17th, 2012

CNG-powered Ram pickup

We’ve heard a lot about the natural gas revolution lately—you know, the immense resources of gas just waiting to be fracked out of places like Pennsylvania and Western Canada, not to mention parts of China, Europe and Central Asia.

There are literally trillions of cubic feet of the stuff locked away in rocks under the surface in the U.S. alone. However, the extraction and environmental costs will be huge. It’s the same deal with shale oil, which requires much refining.

With gasoline prices heading north of $5 a gallon, Americans (at least some) will continue to trade in their SUV swizzlers and vans for smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. And they will be driving less. So oil imports will be reduced—a trend already happening—and so will greenhouse gas emissions, slightly.

But gasoline prices are determined on the world oil market, and they will continue to rise as functions of supply, demand, geopolitics and speculation. The biggest factor will surely be rising demand from China, India and other developing countries. One blog claims we presently use three billion gallons of gasoline a day on this earth.

Along with renewables, natural gas will be a part of the solution. Recovering it by fracking, however, uses hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per well and injects harmful, even toxic, chemicals and elements into the ground that cannot be recovered. Leakage into the air and water table has occurred. The EPA’s proposed controls are yet to be put in place.

Drilling for gas will continue and increase, and the government needs to regulate not the industry but the environmental and safety problems. Gas production, as an industry, is booming. Bloomberg reports:

trucking companies are already buying more long-haul natural-gas trucks simply because the fuel is so cheap. Annual savings over diesel can add up to $20,000 for a single truck—so a company can recoup the extra cost of the new technology in about two years.

On the consumer side, Chrysler Group LLC and General Motors Co. recently announced that they plan to build pickups that use compressed natural gas, joining Honda Motor Co., which sells a version of the Civic that runs on the fuel.

The L.A. Times ran a recent story on how companies like Coca-Cola and others are converting their big rigs to natural gas. Frito-Lay is converting to gas and also using 176 plug-in delivery trucks. Diesel has become just too expensive.

So gas is coming on strong. Yet the rest of the energy mix—along with the political, social and economic factors that determine it—is still in a complicated and dangerous state.

Have you changed your driving or purchasing or consuming habits to cope with rising energy prices? Tell us about it.

—jgoods

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