Does anyone remember “peak oil?” That’s the question asked by the highly respected Canadian energy expert Vaclav Smil. The outlook has indeed changed remarkably in the past six months. Natural gas is in glut and tight oil supplies are increasing rapidly. President Obama may even be able to use the bounty as an excuse for turning down the Keystone Pipeline – which won’t make the Canadians happy. Ron Brownstein even suggests that the natural gas boom may be the President’s biggest legacy, even though fracking pioneer George Mitchell probably had more to do with it. Brad Plumer in the Washington Post points out that the nuclear revival has been another casualty of the shale boom but Ken Silverstein in Forbes says that nuclear will survive.
President Obama’s presumed picks for the Department of Energy and the EPA are already stirring controversy. MIT professor Ernst Moniz will be a likely target for environmentalists as he supports both natural gas fracking and nuclear energy. Stories are already circulating about how the oil and gas industry has supported his work at MIT. EPA candidate Gina McCarthy is more likely to get if form the Republicans. Louisiana Senator Tom Vitter is already complaining that she stonewalled him on providing the science for air regulations. Look for some spirited debates when the Senate starts doing interviews.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is prepared to ask President Obama to speed natural gas exports to Japan when the two meet at the White House today. The request will add fuel to the debate over whether the US should export natural gas. Celine Rottier, writing in The Energy Collective, suggests that floating LNG terminals could revolutionize the industry, eliminating all the objections to onshore facilities. In Alaska there’s talk of trucking all that stranded gas out of the North Slope to Fairbanks, where it could be exported to Japan. And Ford is exploring the idea of using gas to power cars. Still, the glut persists and Chesapeake has taken a big hit because of low natural gas prices.
On the world stage, Russia is making plans to ship liquefiede gas by rail to Vladivostok, where it would be exported to Japan, Korea and China. The Chinese aren’t making too much headway with their own fracking because of uncertainty about geology and infrastructure. The same limitations will obviously hobble the effort to develop shale gas outside the US and one report is calling Britain’s shale plans “wishful thinking.”
Finally, there are technology breakthroughs coming almost every day. Ohio State scientists say they have developed a process for extracting the energy from coal without combustion. IBM says it will unveil a new version of the “lithium-air” battery that will solve problems of overheating. Researchers at UCLA say they have developed a way of depositing a layer of graphene on a DVD that turns it into a supercapacitor energy storage device (above). And engineers at the University of Buffalo have found a way of separating light into rainbows that will enhance the capture of solar energy. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with all the new developments.