Natural gas instead of wind?

The President of Houston Spectra Energy, which owns Union Gas, was in the Toronto Star today. Greg Ebel is giving interviews and speeches extolling the virtues of natural gas, and questioning why the province is signing contracts to buy wind and solar energy, when new technology has given us “100 years worth of gas” that can be used to produce electricity.

New techniques of coaxing gas out of shale, and coal beds, have increased our gas reserves in North America dramatically. The technique involves fracturing the rock at depth, thereby releasing gas that has not been able to be economically obtained in the past. Mr. Ebel argues that with the new reserves, natural gas prices will be stable long into the future, and that we should therefore build natural gas generating capacity to replace our coal plants. It would be hard to disagree with him on this point – gas is better than coal, with lower emissions.

But this new gas is not without problems. In some areas, the fracturing of the rock has released gas, and its related impurities, into the water table, poisoning wells. What have we gained if we have this “abundant, clean” fuel, but can’t farm anymore because there is no water for livestock or people? And natural gas still has carbon emissions – about half the level of coal.

And what about the 100 years of supply? That might be true at current consumption rates. But what happens if we increase consumption to supply electricity, as well as increased population? It doesn’t take long for 100 years to turn into 30 or 40 when we do that.

If Mr. Ebel is right, and natural gas is so abundant, and will be cheap long into the future, then let us ask the gas producers to quote the Ontario Power Authority on long term (20 year) fixed price contracts, or contracts that increase at only 20% of the rate of increase in the consumer price index (like the wind contracts). And this price should include any future and unknown price on carbon (like the wind contracts). Let the gas producers put their money where their mouth is. Let them do that, but until they do, this is all talk, and no action.

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