Fossil fuels are not going down without a fight

Fracking
© MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images

The rate of growth in coal generation is going down. It's not enough.

Sometimes I look at TreeHugger and think that Sami Grover and I live in alternate universes like on Star Trek: Discovery. He will write Despite Trump, US coal and gas generation down—renewables up and I will read in the Washington Post Last year dashed hopes for a climate change turnaround that carbon emissions from the use of energy are rising again, according to the International Energy Agency.

The increase in emissions of the all-important greenhouse gas came as global energy demand itself increased thanks to strong economic growth — and that demand was sated by all types of energy, including renewables but also oil, coal and natural gas. “The growth in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2017 is a strong warning for global efforts to combat climate change, and demonstrates that current efforts are insufficient to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement,” said the IEA.

Yes, the use of renewables went up, but coal demand was up one percent and oil and gas consumption were up 1.6 and 3 percent respectively. And all over the world, coal continues to provide base load power, and will continue to do so for some time. Sure, China is big on solar now, but as the head of the World Coal Association happily notes,

“In the last five years as China became the largest solar and wind market in the world — it also added 229GW of coal power. Thus, increasing coal generation by a third. Renewables complement rather than displace coal — a trend that we continue to see across Asia.”

Energy and Civilizatoin© MIT Press/ Energy and Civilization

If you read Vaclav Smil's giant doorstop Energy and Civilization -- A History , you learn that this is a feature, not a bug. As I noted in my review, the growth in renewables is almost irrelevant.

Those steps in the right direction of greater efficiency and more clean energy are being overwhelmed by growth and development powered by fossil fuels, by cheaper gas and oil. We know that plastics production is being dialled up dramatically, that gas production is increasing all over the world thanks to fracking technology, that restrictions on offshore oil drilling make even more cheap American fuels. That's because, fundamentally, the leaders of the USA and China and India know that their jobs depend on generating more growth, more development, more cars, planes and hotels, and that it is all driven by energy. Energy is money and they want more of it, not less.

drilling for gas© MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images/ Horizontal Gas Drilling Rig exploring the Marcellus Shale

One can also read a really interesting article in the Wall Street Journal, How Two Wells in Wyoming Explain the Natural-Gas Glut. Natural gas is so cheap right now that drillers are going bankrupt. Because it's cheap, people are burning more and more of it.

Yet this unprecedented demand growth has barely absorbed the gas flooding the market. Gas is surging out of West Texas, a byproduct of frenzied oil drilling in the Permian Basin. Appalachian output is on the upswing as new pipelines connect swaths of the Marcellus and Utica shales to the market. In Louisiana’s Haynesville Shale, and now Wyoming, producers have supersized wells in attempts to lower their cost per unit and better compete with cheaper-to-drill areas.

How are they doing it? Horizontal wells, and "pumping 281,000 barrels of water and 12.4 million pounds of sand beneath the surface. " One of their wells pumps out enough gas to fuel every house in the state. Meanwhile,

Snow days in Houston and nor’easters in March have reduced gas in storage to its lowest level in three years. Chemical makers and other manufacturers are consuming record volumes. Mexico is importing more than ever. And Dominion Energy Inc.’s Cove Point export terminal in Maryland began filling tankers with liquefied natural gas this month, pushing overseas LNG shipments to new highs.

But there is so much gas that prices aren't budging. The true fact of the matter is that utilities are burning less coal because gas is cheaper, and likely will be for some time. There are too many wells like that one in Wyoming:

“Well performance like this is one of the reasons we aren’t optimistic for a natural-gas price recovery,” said Ethan Bellamy, energy analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co. “There’s simply too much supply available.”

Perhaps Sami is in one mirror Star Trek: Discovery universe with Captain Lorca and I am in the other with Captain Tilly. We are certainly reading different news.

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