Should we move to a pure natural gas transport model?

What follows is the text of a rebuttal letter I wrote to Michael Fitzsimmons who is a retired engineer and a proponent of moving all transport to natural gas as a way to free the US from reliance upon imported oil. We had a series of letters on the Seeking Alpha financial web site. This is my final letter to him:

MF: Your idea of a dialog is "Your figures are wrong"? (I offered him a link to the US Energy Information Agency, the definitive  governmental website on all aspects of energy). These are up to date(November 2010) EIA’s figures for proven reserves. They are not mine. Did you click on the link? It is apparent you have made up your mind because you don’t bother to rebut anyone’s arguments in a respectful fashion using credible data. You merely rewind your tape and repeat your arguments.You have chosen to include ALL categories of reserves which you do not mention anywhere that I could find. You argue like Hugo Chavez, the Oil Shale advocates , the Coal proponents and even the Saudis. There is only a certain small portion of the resource that will be economically available at any remotely affordable price. Chavez says there is more oil in Orinoco sands than in the middle east. Probably true. There may be more oil and gas in Western US shale as well. More in Canada than Saudi Arabia. So what, Mike. Even Rigzone, the respected Oil & Gas trade publication, throws cold water on estimates of supply from people such as yourself who have a simplistic agenda and a mission short on details. You are however absolutely correct that the 2/3 reliance on imported oil is an ongoing disaster which is not being addressed as part of a coherent energy policy. Your statement of how much could be saved by a switch to NG takes the lowest price I could find which was about $1.50 for gasoline equivalent. Prices actually seem to range from $1.50-2.50. I don’t see a fuel tax on NG in our nearest metro area. Plan on at least 25-50 cents a gallon. The kind of expansion of NG you are proposing would require many new pipelines. You say rail is too expensive and too slow which is incorrect. You  also fail to mention that natural gas on a btu basis is about 1/4 of oil. That is a temporary aberration which would certainly evaporate if vast amounts of gas were to be used as a transport fuel. What will be the price of NG fuel on an oil btu equivalent or even half of an oil equivalent? Do the math. We have a gas pipeline being constructed from here in Wyoming to Oregon, 675 miles. It is the Ruby Pipeline. It will cost at least $3 billion which is $4.4 million per mile. It is going thru open empty land, Indian land, barren land and it is still $4.4 million/mile. Rail in Wyoming laying a new track in flat terrain. for freight(not high speed) is ball park $1 million/mile.(source: a friend in Idaho who works for UP) In Southern Cal adding a second main line is higher for many urban reasons. It is about$2-3 million mile depending again on terrain and location. Urban Rail costs range from numbers like this to absurdly high numbers in the range of $20-60 million a mile in cities.. Rehabbing Freight rail in open country in 1995 estimate(Google) from MO DOT was estimated at $248,000/mile. That is more than double now. Urban rail costs for rail generally include the cost of everything, cars, rail, ties, switches, stations etc. The costs of digging up an urban area and sinking a pipeline of relatively short life is equally expensive. In the US we use rail for freight. In Europe they use Rail for people. It would be stupid to ruin a decent freight rail system in the US by jamming passengers down the throats of UP and CSX. Laying new track alongside an existing ROW@ is relatively cheap as I have pointed out and is very fast, far faster than digging a pipeline. I see no credible estimates of the ultimate buildout costs of your NG plan. There are damn few pipelines in the US and you would need massive expansion of spur pipelines? Your costs? You haven’t provided them because it would be almost impossible to estimate the costs. If you stick to say, Interstate corridors I am confident you could generate credible figures. I could generate equally credible figures for rail lines coexistent with interstate road corridors. What is clear to me is that laying rail extra main lines is massively faster than burying pipelines and it is undeniably cheaper . When the rail buildout is completed you will have the ability to transport all conventional forms of transportation energy, people and goods. What would result is a massively improved transportation network which could have trains driven by whatever fuel most feasible at the time, whether electricity, oil, coal, firewood, biofuels, nuclear and yes even gas. What we would have with your not original proposals would be pipes in the ground which would in a few decades would be just that, but they would be empty. Your proposal is unworkable, unaffordable, unnecessary and deeply flawed on multiple systemic levels. You might ask the folks in New Mexico what happened to their gas. With no easy way to store gas at 3000 psi, when the pressure drops in the pipe for whatever reason, the party is over. While there will be some transport by CNG and electric in the future as part of a broad transport model, using CNG as the fuel model to move to is bogus and delusional. It is delusional just as Obama’s high speed rail proposals are equally delusional,impractical, and unaffordable. We are long past the time to have a national energy plan. Gas will be part of that plan if it ever happens as will all the fossil and non fossil energy resources. Switching all transport to gas alone is as ludicrous as switching to a pure coal  or pure solar.


About cal48koho

I was born in Montana and raised in a dozen Air Force SAC bases. I attended Holy Cross,West Point and UNC in Chapel Hill(MD"71). Army doc in the last years of the Viet Nam fiasco. My wife and I live in a log cabin I built in Jackson Hole in 1975 when we aren't on our Cal 48 yawl. I've done a dozen different jobs and retired from ER and Anesthesia in 2004. I've written magazine articles and am writing a Kunstleresque novel about life in a past Peak Oil world. We are living in a beautiful alpine setting where we hike and ski when we're not thinking about economics and spreading the implications of PO to anyone who will listen.
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