02 Mar 2016 The Role of Natural Gas in Our Energy Sources
How important is natural gas in our energy environment? Energy is everywhere, we rely on flipping the switch and the light goes on. Many of us are so used to having basic energy function reliably in our everyday lives, we hardly think twice about it. When is the last time you thought about how the energy resources you use every day get to where you are? Were they transported through natural gas or oil pipelines to power plants, or was it a product of coal, wind, solar or nuclear energy?
Most of us will find we come to the same conclusion, that the last time we thought twice about energy was when we had to go without, such as the damage caused by severe weather, like that witnessed during Hurricane or “Super Storm” Sandy. It’s safe to say most of us don’t consider the impact energy has on our lives until we are in a crisis.
Looking at Jimmy Carter’s Speech
Crisis isn’t just weather. Some of us might recall President Jimmy Carter giving a speech on new energy policies during the energy crisis in the 1970s. He addressed rumors that oil reserves were being withheld, and cautioned that dependence on foreign sources of energy could cause the U.S. to live in fear of embargoes.
Energy independence is as relevant today as it was then – and as a result, the relevance of natural gas is pivotal. The number of natural gas wells in the U.S. increased by 36 percent between 2004 and 2007, and growth is forecasted to continue. Meanwhile, imports of natural gas have virtually stopped. In fact, the Congressional Research Service 2014 U.S. Energy Overview indicates that by 2018, the U.S. will be a net natural gas exporter.
While some of President Carter’s recommendations, like increasing use of coal, don’t stand the test of time, others do. His statement in 1977 still stands: We can begin to prepare right now. We can decide to act while there is time.
Phasing into Natural Gas
Shifting into electric power through natural gas as a main energy source is inevitable. Preparation is happening now to accommodate the requested closure of multiple coal plants in New England. These facilities will shut their doors, but provide fair warning. A coal-fired plant in Massachusetts will retire in 2017, cited as a heavy polluter. Several more plants have requested permission to shut down. In the longer term, these challenges may continue: four nuclear plants are licensed only until 2030, 2032 or 2035. States are doing what they can to temper the impact and create pricing stability throughout the transition.
Lawmakers and business people alike understand the need to reduce the effect of energy sources on the environment, while replacing inefficient power. Aging infrastructure sources are being phased out, increasingly in favor of natural gas.
Shifting energy resources is necessary – and these shifts need to be made proactively. It’s easy to take for granted how easily we can access electric or natural gas as energy, whether it’s considering the energy required to run a business or simply flipping on a light switch in your own home. If we think about our energy sources before we are in a crisis where we face a lack of resources, we will be better prepared for transitions. None of us are immune to the challenges with replacing energy sources, like the energy access issues New England faces today and in the near future.
Natural gas is a great strategy for transitioning smoothly away from old and diminishing energy sources. With natural gas in abundance, and the oil and gas pipeline construction industry creating jobs, the reasons against pursuing the extraction of this resource are slim. Avoiding the high pollution levels of coal, the challenges of nuclear, and the foreign dependencies of oil are all good reasons to keep growing our domestic natural gas plants and pipeline infrastructure.