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This article by Spencer Jakab at the Wall Street Journal leaves me unsure of whether to laugh or rant. I agree with Jakab that the regular burning of unprofitable natural gas at some oil wells is a problem, but for different reasons. First, an introduction:
Even as more and more gas gets supercooled and shipped around the world in expensive, liquefied form, an estimated 5.1 trillion cubic feet of gas was flared world-wide in 2018, according to The World Bank—equivalent to the combined consumption of France, Germany and Belgium.
Why waste so much valuable fuel? Because it is often an unwanted byproduct of an oil well, and it isn’t worth enough to sell.
The article goes on to explain how capturing and transporting natural gas from some locations can be unprofitable, even while similar gas remains very profitable elsewhere. I appreciate that Jakab proposes finding ways to make that unsought gas profitable, rather than immediately turning to government to ban flaring.
But his concerns about a greenhouse gas effect are unwarranted, like all fears regarding global warming. The real problem is that geologic theory still posits that fossil fuels require rare conditions and millions of years to develop. Ergo, Earth has a limited supply, even if that supply is sufficient to last many generations of increasing use. If waste of irreplaceable resources can be avoided, it should be.
Much could change regarding energy production and use in the next century or two. I can’t imagine batteries requiring even rarer resources, like lithium, as a practical substitute for most power supplies now dependent on fossil fuels. But there will, of course, be further advancements in research and technology, especially when and where need is greater.
For all we know, we won’t need fossil fuels a century from now. Or we will develop more cost-efficient means of artificially producing oil and gas. But assuming that is the case would be grossly irresponsible and cruel to future generations. It’s one thing to temporarily bury resources we cannot yet efficiently recycle, like plastics (oil derivatives) and old batteries. It’s another to disintegrate resources entirely, preventing later use.
Can any Ricochet members offer insights into the challenges of preserving this natural gas or other factors in the situation? Are there already solutions that could be applied?