Fuel of the future

It’s premature to predict the death of the nuclear energy industry, as some folks are already doing in the wake of the Japanese power-plant disaster following an earthquake and tsunami earlier this month.

But it’s clear that because of the disaster, people across the globe are re-examining nuclear energy as a major source of electric generation. And new nuclear power plants are on hold, at least temporarily.

Coal is out of favor because of its high levels of carbon dioxide emissions, although that problem may be overcome with clean-coal technology that’s being developed.

Large-scale hydro-electric plants haven’t been built in this country in years because of their costs and environmental impacts.

Wind, solar and biofuels are decades away from meeting a substantial portion of our electric needs. Also, wind and solar power need back-up energy for when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine.

That leaves one energy source as the clear front-runner for new electric generation, here and around the world: natural gas.

As The New York Times reported this week, in an article published in The Daily Sentinel Wednesday, that has prompted major energy companies such as Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon to invest heavily in natural gas exploration and production. It has also led to a modest increase in natural gas prices, although they remain far below the peak of a few years ago.

All of this is good news for the Western Slope’s natural gas industry. Although technology developed largely in this region is helping to bring online major gas fields in other parts of the United States and in other nations, we still have trillions of cubic feet of recoverable natural gas here in western Colorado. And new pipelines are making it easier to get that gas to markets.

Hydraulic fracturing and the chemicals used in that process remain a controversial issue. Drilling service companies would serve their own cause better if they revealed the chemicals used in fracking, rather than waiting for Congress or the EPA to dictate that they go public and mandate what they may use.

That issue aside, Americans are continually demanding more electricity for everything from computers to big-screen TVs to electric cars.

We can’t oppose every form of energy used for electric generation and expect to have the electricity we need available when we want it. For now, one source of energy appears poised to be the fuel of the immediate future. That’s natural gas.


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