Natural Gas as the Bridge Fuel to the Future

From Washington State University News

By E. Kirsten Peters

To a geologist like me, it was most notable by its absence in the political campaigns that lurched to their conclusions in November. I’m talking about an energy plan with real teeth, one that addresses everything from national security to the cost of energy to greenhouse warming of the planet.

The best-known geologist in the country is T. Boone Pickens. He’s been in the energy business for decades – he’s now in his 80s – and is still tirelessly devoted to pointing out to all who will listen just how much it costs us to not have a meaningful national energy plan. I recently listened to one of his lectures on the subject courtesy of the TED talks hosted on the Internet (

Expensive defense of dependence

Pickens points out that there are 12 aircraft carriers in the world. One is being built by China; the rest belong to the United States. Our 11 aircraft carriers are divided between their homeports and stations in the Middle East, where they keep shipping lanes open for Mideast petroleum.

Pickens says that since 1976 the world has spent $7 trillion on oil from OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries – most in the Mideast). That’s been the cost of the fuel and the cost of our military involvement in the region. He says it’s the largest single transfer of wealth the world has ever seen.

OPEC is led by oil giant Saudi Arabia. It’s sometimes said that the cost of producing a barrel of oil in Saudi Arabia is only about $5. But Pickens says the Saudis feel they need $94 per barrel to meet their social commitments – the goods and services they fund with their oil sales. And the world essentially pays what the Saudis decide they need, Pickens maintains.

Cleaner, abundant alternative

Across the world, we spend so much because our dependence on petroleum is so real. In the U.S., we use about 20 million barrels of crude per day. (The world as a whole uses about 89 million barrels each day, so we weigh in using a considerable fraction of that total.) In the U.S., we produce about 8 million barrels – the rest is imported from a number of places, with 5 million coming from OPEC.

Pickens likes to say that petroleum is dirty, expensive and “theirs.” What he promotes is U.S. energy – namely natural gas. As he likes to point out, gas is 25 percent cleaner than oil, it’s abundant and it’s “ours.”

“Natural gas will do everything we want it to do,” Pickens says. “It comes out of the ground at 130 octane.”

Pickens believes industry estimates that in the U.S. we have 4,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. That’s the equivalent of three times the petroleum the Saudis claim they have.

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