Monday, February 23, 2009

Natural Gas Important to USA

Domestic natural gas one hope
By Adam Testa, The Southern
Sunday, February 22, 2009 2:14 AM CST
In the debate on preferred energy sources for America to pursue, most experts will agree that natural gas offers one of the most environmentally clean options.

Supply, however, has become an issue of concern as America's energy usage continues to grow, and North America maintains only 4 percent of the world's known natural gas supply. A majority of the supply lies in the Middle East and eastern European countries.

While natural gas primarily comes from the same geographic regions as oil, America has managed to avoid the complications and threats associated with importation. The United States self-produces 85 percent of its natural gas consumption.

As usage continues to expand, some believe importing will become a necessary path, but others believe new technologies can help keep America's gas supply originating at home.

Scott Williams, a West Frankfort-based consultant in the natural gas industry, has worked with Michigan-based DTE Methane Resources to extract methane gas from sealed coal mines in Franklin, Jefferson and Williamson counties.

Once extracted from the closed-off mines, the gas is transported to a DTE plant near Corinth where it is cleaned and converted so it can be sold on the market or shipped off through pipelines. This coal bed methane production represents the most prominent form of natural gas manufacturing in Illinois.

"Some of the mines have no gas in them; some of them are flooded," Williams said. "The gas in some of them is such low quality it's not worth trying to produce."

The high cost of infrastructure necessary to test and drill for viable mining locations makes the venture cost-prohibitive for energy companies unless natural gas prices stay about a certain price level, Williams said.

New technologies will allow for further development and expansion of the natural gas market in the United States and Illinois, he added. Among possibilities being explored are coal gasification and drilling for gas in virgin coal reserves.

Brad Richards, executive vice president of the Illinois Oil and Gas Association, said researchers have also begun to apply the practice of extracting gases from shale, which was previously thought to be too tight of a rock to be mined.

The type shale best suited for natural gas extraction can be found in Arkansas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Texas, Richards said. In its early stages, several hurdles still stand in the path of shale extraction, but Richards believes it will play a major role as America moves forward.

"There are issues there that will have to be resolved, but the natural gas is definitely there," he said. / 618-351-5031

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