Mon, May 21st 2012 12:00 am
By DAVID BERTOLA
firstname.lastname@example.org | 716-541-1621
The abundance of natural gas in U.S. shale formations has many in natural gas and related industries thinking about a scenario where more vehicles, power plants, homes and other buildings should run on it.
But John Martin said that before everything in America gets retrofitted to run on natural gas, an important question must be answered.
"That question is: Are these natural gas resources large enough to continue at a high rate of production to sustain that fuel-switching behavior?"
And the answer?
"Some say yes, but others don't think it's quite where people think it is," said Martin, an economist and director of the new Shale Resources and Society Institute.
It's based at the University at Buffalo College of the Arts and Sciences, Department of Geology.
"We're quite early in the process, but it looks like yes," he said.
At a glance, the numbers would seem to back him up. According to the Natural Gas Supply Association (www.naturalgas.org), the United States has enough natural gas to meet more than 75 years of domestic production.
But not everyone is convinced that would be long enough to meet long-term demand.
David Colligan is a partner in the Buffalo-based law firm Watson Bennett Colligan Johnson & Schecter LLP, which negotiates and drafts land leases for oil and gas drilling. He said when he hears that there's enough gas for the next century, he thinks that may be too long of a time period.
According to Colligan, for so much to convert over to natural gas, there won't be enough of it to last 100 years. The figures are based on current consumption, he said.
If larger infrastructures were built to support more use - such as fueling stations along interstate highways and trucking operations that convert to it - Colligan said the demand would likely increase.
"But there's a long way to go until you get to the point where you are on par with consumption," he said.
To his point, the Natural Gas Supply Association said on its website that the estimate does not account for expected increasing production levels, or potential opening of access to currently restricted land.
But it offers a good idea of how much domestic natural gas to which the United States currently has access.
Greater use driving long-term demandMartin said short-term demand for natural gas will be driven by the economy picking up. And long-term demand will increase with more cars switching to using it as a fuel, more power plants running on it, and chemical feed stocks that use natural gas products.
"But for those things to occur - for example, compressed natural gas fuel stations for fleets - you need to develop a lot of the resource," he said.
In the Northeast, infrastructure exists to deliver an abundant natural gas supply to wherever it needs to go, said attorney Marc Romanowski.
"Certainly the supply is there," said Romanowski, partner and head of the energy practice group at Harter Secrest & Emery LLP. The Buffalo law firm represents gas companies and industrial users that use natural gas as a fuel source.
"The other issue is demand. We know technologically how to do it," he said. "There are heavy and passenger vehicles that run on compressed natural gas. Demand will drive the supply."
Trash haulers made switch to CNGMoving the needle in the demand direction would be larger truck fleets, which could afford to invest in a sophisticated compressed natural gas system, and which return dozens of giant trucks to their yards at night for re-fueling.
In a March 30 article in Business First, officials of Modern Corp. showed off its new $1.3 million natural gas filling station in Lewiston.
The company also bought 15 compressed natural gas-powered garbage trucks at about $303,000 each.
Likewise, garbage hauler Waste Management Inc. in West Seneca is spending $15 million on a fleet conversion and filling station initiative, which also began last year.
Buffalo-based Cobey Inc., meanwhile, makes giant reciprocating compressors to be used on offshore drilling platforms. The company is scaling them down to use for storage and refueling vehicles with compressed natural gas.
While Cobey ships equipment all over the world, it wants to be a major regional player - within 500 miles of Buffalo - and build compressed natural gas stations for private fleets.
As for townships, businesses and others who want to understand more about natural gas as a viable resource, according to Martin.
He said research from the institute can help. The goal is to provide accurate, research-based information on the development of shale and other energy resources.
"Society benefits from good research, and beneficiaries of it will be policymakers, communities at large who can learn through scientific-based research and companies that will have a better understanding of societal issues," he