Natural gas – going , going…

How much natural gas is left in the world depends, primarily, upon the definition that you use. In the energy industry they talk about “proven” or “proved” reserves, which is the amount of natural gas that can be taken from known places with reasonable certainty under current operating and economic conditions.

It is fairly obvious that all of the big gas fields have been discovered; there is little left to find, except perhaps around the poles.

According to the latest information at the end of 2008 there were 185.02 trillion cubic metres of natural gas. The largest deposits by far are in Russia (45 trillion) and the Middle East (50 trillion). US Canada and Mexico can only muster less than 9 trillion and the European Union less than 5 trillion. The UK has less than 0.34 trillion cubic metres of gas.

At the present rate of consumption the gas will last 60 years.

However, to get an accurate picture about natural gas reserves and consumption you have to go back first to the definition; one of the factors for reserves of gas being “proved” is that the gas must be economic to extract under current operating conditions. The higher the price of natural gas the more economic it becomes to extract gas and therefore fields that were not in the category of “proven” fall into that category, as the price of natural gas rises. Conversely, as the price of natural gas falls, fields that were proved become uneconomic and fall out of that category. Either way, the amount of natural gas within the earth remains finite and the same.

The second thing to bear in mind is that as poorer countries improve their standards of living and become “developed” so the consumption of gas will increase. More gas will be used to heat homes, as more people can afford this and more gas will be used for electricity generation. The future numbers of people using natural gas will increase for this reason.

The third thing to bear in mind is that the world’s population is increasing all the time and this will create more demand for gas, regardless of any increases in prosperity among poorer nations; the richer nations will still have children.

The fourth thing to bear in mind is that there will be some reduction is gas consumption (on an appliance basis or on a power station basis) as a result of increasing efficiencies. Today condensing boilers are more efficient that non-condensing boilers and use less gas; perhaps they do not use that much less gas, but there is an efficiency that will lead to less gas being used.

On large scale gas consumption by power stations at least half the gas used is wasted and sent into the atmosphere as waste heat. With the political will, this waste heat could be harnesses to much greater effect than at present, and when it is, there will be savings in the overall fossil fuel energy requirement.

Now, I am not a mathematician and cannot design or invent an algorithm to process and calculate what will happen about gas usage, and in any event, even if someone can, it will only be as robust as its assumptions prove to be correct.

If I consider each of the factors about future natural gas use, add to them the fact that natural gas is far less polluting than its main competitors of coal and oil, I think it is reasonable to conclude that we have enough natural gas to last us around thirty to forty years. The basis of this prediction is that in my opinion population growth and prosperity will outweigh efficiencies and discoveries. I do not think that I am wrong – the only things that I can foresee stopping population growth are climate change and environmental degradation.

The energy used by the children of those born today will be very different from the energy sources we now use.