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The Case Against Gas Dependence

Greater reliance on gas-fired power implies serious economic, technological, and national security risks.
Fortnightly Magazine - April 2004

this reduction is due to lowered forecasts of new electric generation that will be gas-fired. In 2002, EIA projected that nearly 90 percent of all new electric generation over the next two decades will be gas-fired, while in its 2003 forecasts it projects that 80 percent of new electric generation will be gas- fired. Its 2003 forecast of total gas consumption in 2020 is 1.7 Tcf lower than the 2002 forecast, and most of this (1.1 Tcf) is from reduced consumption in the electric generation sector. EIA recently has reduced its forecasts of the use of natural gas for electricity generation. In its 2001 forecast, EIA projected that in 2020 11.6 Tcf of natural gas would be used to generate electricity; in its 2002 forecast, EIA lowered this projection to 10.5 Tcf; in its forecast published in January 2003, EIA further reduced the projected 2020 use of natural gas in the electric generation sector to 9.6 Tcf. This represents a lowering of the forecast by 17 percent in only two years.

U.S. natural gas production will not keep pace with demand-even with EIA's reduced estimates of future demand-and gas imports will increase significantly. The more than doubling of the use of natural gas to generate electricity by 2025 will be accompanied by a big increase in U.S. gas imports. In 2000, U.S. natural gas imports totaled 4.6 Tcf; by 2025 imports are forecast to total 8.3 Tcf. Thus, at a time when energy policy-makers are concerned about America's increasing dependence on imported oil, the United States will become increasingly dependent on imported natural gas as well, and much of these gas imports will come from the same politically unstable regions that contain most of the world's oil supplies. 4

Further, U.S. gas markets may not be able to accommodate the huge anticipated increase in natural gas demand over the next two decades. As Wayne Andrews of Raymond James & Associates noted: 5

  • U.S. gas supply is declining at an unprecedented rate, and U.S. producers will find it very difficult to reverse this negative trend;
  • The gas industry is searching from smaller reserves and decline rates are increasing; and
  • Imports from Canada are declining; and liquefied natural gas (LNG) is the only long-term solution.
    Matthew Simmons of Simmons & Co. International similarly believes that: 6
  • Although the gas well drilling boom of 2000/2001 was unprecedented, it resulted in few new supplies, and U.S. gas production has been essentially flat since 1995;
  • The decline in domestic gas production is not reversible through a new drilling boom;
  • A 10 percent decline in domestic production is likely but could be far worse; and
  • By 2004, a large number of new gas-fired electric generation plants will be on line and, if are all used in the same week, the "sucking impact on gas will be unprecedented."

Simmons concludes, "If the above points hold, new gas-fired generation beyond 2005 may not be feasible, and alternate fuels will have to be used for new electric generation plants."

Strains on Supplies

The United States has only 3 percent of the