Saturday, March 05, 2011

UFC: NatGas vs. the Neutron

Because of the NYTimes article last week there is heightened new interest across Pennsylvania over radiation in the fracking water being used in Marcellus Shale development.  Just saying that we mentioned the whole radiation in shale issue here just over a year ago. So clearly some folks are not surprised by this.  So why is this news all of a sudden?  Someone was not thinking ahead. 

Which isn't to say I have any insight into the scale of this as an issue.  If anything I am geology challenged, but it should highlight the real problem of radon in Pennsylvania. I still wonder a bit when someone will float the idea of mining for uranium in Pennsylvania... or potentially even refining the shale itself for uranium. 

But my old post was just pulling something from blogger AtomicRod who in addition to talking about all things nuclear has brought up what may be the real underlying debate over the impact of shale gas development worldwide. We are the nexus of the biggest energy cage fight that is emerging.  Some have framed the debate over the future of energy in the US as between nuclear and natural gas.  The future will not be absolutely one or the other, but clearly there is a lot of marginal investment that may go toward one or the other dependng how the economics of the two energy sources evolve.   Before the escalation of shale gas development, nuclear was beginning to reawaken as we all know from Westinghouse's expansion locally.  Is the development of Marcellus Shale, and other shale gasses, putting that at risk in the future?

In related news:

Hey look, economics still works and the low price of natural gas is impacting development - Dow Jones yesterday: US Natural Gas Rig Count Falls To 1-Year Low - Baker Hughes

This literally just popped up.  From Arkansas: 2 firms to suspend earthquake zone injection wells  I do wonder if the MSC folks have a PR already prepared just in case one of those occassional Pennsylvania earthquakes occurs...  The header would be "Not our fault!". 

And I was on the turnpike yesterday and noticed a pro-coal billboard that I had never seen before.  It was kind of remarkable.. It said something like "Wind dies. Sun sets. You need reliable, affordable, clean-coal electricity."  Like really? Now the sun setting is cause for concern?   That or I should go start the portable generator every time the wind peters out? 

I sense that ad it really a reflection of some angst in the vast PA coal industry over shale gas.  It may be an even bigger food fight impacting shale gas in the future actually.  In terms of net job creation, if natural gas does grow as some say it will, what does it say for the future of the coal economy in Pennylvania? 

12 Comments:

Anonymous n'at said...

Thinking ahead: Professionals, "The Industry", EPA, state DEP/DERs, API, NETL and locally PAAW and PWSA - were and are all aware of naturally occurring radioactive material. The public water purveyors test for the presence of radioactive material, as per EPA standards - which is the apparent problem based on recent public perception.

EPA doesn't require a minimum frequency of testing acceptable by folks living and whose water supplies exist in high risk areas. Should we test daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, or stay with the EPA standard of every 3 years, if results are within limits, and if not, then quarterly until normal values are achieved for a full year?

// Nuclear vs. Natural Gas

Like the great VHS/BetaMax wars, this will come down to politics and market forces. Regulations in the States make construction and operation of nuclear and coal-fired power plants exceptionally expensive - because we're a country where more people want to stay and live as opposed to simply vacation.

Electrical power generated by natural gas, however, does not have as many hoops to jump through. If natural gas prices continue to fall, domestic supplies continue to increase and a process exists which provides similar efficiency* to coal-fired power production, then we have a winner.

* - power, excluding all waste heat, gas, fly ash, mercury and other items not found in the house salad.

Saturday, March 05, 2011 9:33:00 AM  
Anonymous The Wiz said...

In terms of net job creation, if natural gas does grow as some say it will, what does it say for the future of the coal economy in Pennylvania?

I believed I asked that Q in a comment a few months back. And I asked what is the comparison of man hours/mBTU coal vs nat gas

Saturday, March 05, 2011 1:23:00 PM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

My understanding is that there are significant constraints on how fast new nuclear plants can come on line (not just regulatory, but in terms of global industry capacity). If so, nuclear power need not be all that sensitive to the price of other options, at least within a certain broad range. But maybe cheap natural gas in the Northeast of the United States would shift some of the new nuke plants to China (or wherever).

Coal, on the other hand--it seems quite likely cheap natural gas substitutes for marginal coal (and marginal oil).

Saturday, March 05, 2011 4:27:00 PM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

By the way, unlike with media formats, there really aren't much in the way of network efficiencies in power generation (thanks to everything becoming electricity for transmission). Non-electric vehicle fuels, on the other hand, do exhibit network efficiencies, but that is a natural gas versus oil thing, with coal and nukes not really mattering (again, specifically when talking about non-electric vehicles).

Saturday, March 05, 2011 4:31:00 PM  
Anonymous The Wiz said...

Check out a company called NuScale Power. They have designed a small nuke plant that can be hauled on a truck. It it based on the idea of distributed generation, where electricity is generated near the end use site, eliminating the need for thousands of miles of high tension transmission lines. A small plant supplies 25,000 homes but they can be assembled to supply larger cities too. Could be a game changer.

There are also fuel cells that run on NatGas like the ones by Plug Power that also utilize distributed generation. They are small enough to run 25 homes apiece. Imagine one or two on every block

Saturday, March 05, 2011 5:02:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

They have designed a small nuke plant that can be hauled on a truck.

I hope they chain it to a light post or something.

Saturday, March 05, 2011 11:21:00 PM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

I did in fact check out Nuscale, and their website says their first unit could be operational as soon as 2018.

It will be interesting to see if that actually happens.

Saturday, March 05, 2011 11:32:00 PM  
Anonymous The Wiz said...

MH, the entire system is buried in the ground so that it is not accessible to terrorists or anyone else. After approx fifteen years, when the fuel is exhausted, they dig it up and replace with a new module, returning the spent unit to the factory to be refueled.

Imagine that small towns across the country have their own small plant for electricity and no need for thousands of miles of power lines. It would be a more stable system, not subject to tornadoes, hurricanes and t'storms. And more environmentally friendly.

Sunday, March 06, 2011 8:46:00 AM  
Anonymous MH said...

Thanks, Wiz. I was curious.

Sunday, March 06, 2011 2:33:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

Wiz man... distributed nuclear power eh? You would be in heaven if Siemens ever got their stationary fuel cell project off the ground. That was entirely natural gas powered technology they were working on and it was for moderate sized needs.. a bit smaller than your nuke project there, but not much. Alas, they could not commercialize the technology.

Sunday, March 06, 2011 5:35:00 PM  
Anonymous The Wiz said...

There is another company called Hyperion that is working on small nuke plants but it a liquid sodium cooled system that is a long way from production.

Nat Gas fuel cells....now thats the way to go!!!

Monday, March 07, 2011 8:45:00 AM  
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