Thomas White Global Investing
Green Reports

July 21, 2010

The Green Report

The Upside of the BP Oil Spill May Be Natural Gas

Natural Gas gets a boost from gulf oil spill

Ironically, the BP oil rig explosion, one of the worst such incidents in U.S. history occurred just two days before Earth Day, which falls on April 22.


April 20th 2010 was a black day, marking one of the worst oil spills in the history of the world. And from floundering revenue to environmental damages to job creation, the BP oil spill has sent its tremors all over the globe in both negative as well as, surprisingly, positive ways.

The dramatic events of that day began when the exploration rig named Deepwater Horizon belonging to British Petroleum (BP) exploded late in the night, killing 11 people. Stationed in the Gulf of Mexico at the Macondo Prospect oil field, the massive rig sank into the ocean but not without spilling its slick contents into the waters. Unlike a ship carrying a limited amount of oil, the BP rig tapped a deep underwater well some 5000 feet down on the ocean floor. The International Energy agency estimated recently that the well spouted out anywhere between 2.5 million to 4.5 million barrels of crude oil into the ocean.

The most affected is clearly the Gulf of Mexico itself, an energy trove which delivers the U.S. around 15% of its natural gas and 25% of crude oil supply. Headlines all over the world have proclaimed how the oil spill has affected the environment, fisheries and jobs in states along the Gulf Coast and beyond. But what are the lesser known consequences of one of the worst oil spills in history?

Unbelievably, the oil spill does sport a silver lining. The incident has sparked a stronger interest in weaning the U.S. off its dependence on oil, 61% of which is imported. Texas billionaire and Chairman of BP Capital Management, T. Boone Pickens, is one of the most enthusiastic advocates of alternative energy as a means of untwining the U.S. from its oil dependence. “We have a resource in this country, natural gas that we can use immediately to replace oil for transportation… It’s clean, domestic and it’s an ideal transportation fuel,” chimes Pickens.

As well, U.S. President Barack Obama gave a nod to natural gas in a speech in June 2010, commenting that “the time has come, once and for all, for this nation to fully embrace a clean energy future. It means tapping into our natural gas reserves…and rolling back billions of dollars of tax breaks to oil companies so we can prioritize investments in clean energy research and development. ” Soon after the oil spill, the CEOs of some of the biggest oil companies testified before the Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee, pressing for climate legislation and for the use of natural gas as a fuel. Senators are discussing renewed energy bills, with tax incentives to convert heavy trucks to natural gas and to produce trucks that would run on natural gas. Currently, one-third of every barrel of oil that the U.S. imports is used by large semi-trailer trucks, which run on diesel fuel.

As Pickens pointed out, natural gas has its biggest potential in transportation. Natural gas vehicles are found to be more efficient than battery electric vehicles (BEVS), with natural gas powered cars displaying much more efficiency.

Natural gas might indeed be America’s answer to breaking the chains of oil dependence.
The U.S. sources 98% of its natural gas requirements from the country’s own rich shale deposits, and possesses enough natural gas for an abundant and a relatively inexpensive energy source for at least the next 100 years. Sadly, though, natural gas amounts to just 24% of the total energy usage

President Obama: The Gulf of Mexico oil spill “is “the most painful
and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean-energy
future is now.”

in the U.S., with coal accounting for 23% and petroleum representing 37%. While previously natural gas failed to attract attention, in the wake of the Gulf oil spill, the alternative fuel has gained support.

“Natural gas could still turn out to be a game changer,” predicts David Pumphrey, deputy director of the Energy and National Security Program at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Renewed enthusiasm for alternative energy was evident in the stock markets post Gulf oil spill. Companies specializing in natural gas exploration, production and transportation are receiving a boost through expansions or takeovers. Through a deal worth $4.7 billion, Royal Dutch Shell recently decided to take over operations of an exploration company named East Resources in order to strengthen its natural gas assets.

It is unfortunate that the heightened interest in renewable energy was spurred by a disaster such as this. But for the U.S., which is racing to meet Obama’s proposed goal of deriving 20% of the nation’s energy needs from renewable sources by 2020, this attention to clean energy has been very timely.

Now, 13 weeks later, a 75-ton cap has been clamped on to the leaking oil well. On July 14, a long awaited 85 days after the worst oil spill in U.S. history, engineers closed the valves and the flow of oil is expected to gradually peter out in the next two days. Indeed, the damage has been done. Yet, like the proverbial Pierian Spring of knowledge, the oil that gushed forth for days has brought new understanding and awareness too. Thanks to the disaster, paradoxically, we could perhaps dare to hope for a greener world.




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