AC/DC Controversy of the 1880s Applies to Natural Gas Today: Reflections After 2011 MIT Energy Conference


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enforcing the known best practices to avoid problems caused by faulty execution. Some of the problems today caused from natural gas mining are simply poor execution of how to dispose of the waste water, and this should be able to be easily fixed.

3. Real Problems: The produced water from the fracking process does have some troubling elements in it and while it seems like a solvable problem, this is what we should be focused on. We should also be focused on the amount of water that is required for this process and move to minimize this environmental cost. Clearly, water will be an increasingly precious commodity, and we do not simply want to be trading off water for energy.

In this debate, there are clearly parties who have entrenched interests (as there are in most every issue in the United States). In this case there is the Coal lobby and then there is the Natural Gas lobby. Unfortunately, in this case, these contributing conflicted parties are not balanced, as the power of the Coal lobby dwarfs that of Natural Gas.

I very much look forward to a third-party honest broker to evaluate the situation and tell us what the reality is. This is why I am so much looking forward to the final MIT Study on Natural Gas, which is due out in April. The benefits of natural gas, specifically our ability to exploit the $4 trillion worth of newly discovered shale gas, are enormous and I would hate to see it get side tracked for even a year with a FUD campaign like Edison ran against alternating current.

The stakes, as James Woolsey laid out so starkly in the energy conference panel of March 5, 2011, are way too high. Now is not the time to be frying animals to scare people. Now is the time to work on solutions.

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Bill Aulet is the Managing Director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship at MIT, as well as a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and author of “Disciplined Entrepreneurship”. Follow @BillAulet

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5 responses to “AC/DC Controversy of the 1880s Applies to Natural Gas Today: Reflections After 2011 MIT Energy Conference”

  1. Jerry Jeff says:

    Mr Aulet, I think you’re a bit too sanguine here. Even if the articles in the NYT are exaggerated environmental scare stories drummed up by the coal lobby (which would be grossly ironic) I don’t believe for a minute that we can trust any of the extraction industries to police themselves. The best case scenario is that shale gas recovery is in its infancy and that the development of the techniques and the industry will drive improved efficiency, safety, and environmental protection. But in the meantime state and federal regulators have to make sure that shale gas production is safe, that the waste is treated appropriately, and that the companies don’t evade responsibility for the brownfields that they are likely creating.

  2. Bill AuletBill Aulet says:

    Your point that we need regulation for safety, I certainly agree with for sure. I believe that the problems are solvable in time and we should work to resolve them with a fair and impartial third party judge and not let ourselves be unduly swayed by vested interests who spread FUD (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt) but rather work to constructively solve the problems and realize the great potential benefits natural gas in the US represents.
    By the way, the current situation in Libya shows why developing the shale gas is so important – safely and responsibly.
    Thanks for the feedback, and I am looking forward to the MIT study on this matter which is due on in April.

  3. Michael says:

    The situation in Libya has nothing to do with gas or coal (heat and electricity) but liquid fuel and petrochemicals. The prices for the latter are affected, the prices for the prior are not (qed). The premium is being paid for the liquid form of energy (10x).
    Further, while gas is less bad in climate change terms, it still is increasing the carbon dioxide content as it is as fossil as coal and oil. Woolsey considers both dependency on foreign resources and threat to global environmental situations with consequences for domestic security.
    The answer lies in using non-carbon (solar, wind, geo, hydro) and carbon negative (biogas, biofuel, ethanol, butanol) fuels, NOT natural gas.

  4. Scott Thomson says:

    You are missing the message with regards to Libya.

    How about this:
    -we continue to utilize natural gas for heating
    -turn to coal and biomass gasification technologies, ex: Synthesis Energy Systems, to supplement the US demand for petroleum distillates (FYI, coal can be converted into diesel/petrol at an economically competitive price when crude oil stabilizes above $80/barrel; and in the processing, C0² may be separated for CCS)…obviously this doesn’t happen overnight, but I believe it to be a step in right direction

  5. I agree that fracking has had some bad outcomes, primarily when done by under capitalized small drillers reworking old wells that were never cased in properly to handle the fracking pressure. Like all things, it comes down to costs, and if it is too costly to just dump the waste water, then it will be cleaned and reused.
    Self regulation never works until serious economic consequences occur that change the mind set of those doing the work.
    Of more immediate environmental impact is the tremendous amount of poorly controlled diesel exhaust generated at a gas well site from the non-road equipment clustered at the site. These engines are still allowed high pollution emissions compared to new on road diesels. The Texas Railroad commission and the Penn EPA are looking at work site emission level regulations to curb this pollution. One easy and money saving way to accomplish dramatic reductions in diesel emissions is to convert all this equipment to CNG and use the well gas to run it.
    It is time the Gas suppliers put their own fuel to work for themselves.