Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Greenspan on Energy

Chairman of the Fed Alan Greenspan gave an important speech yesterday from the point of view of energy.
Altering the magnitude and manner of U.S. energy consumption will significantly affect the path of the U.S. economy over the long term. For years, long-term prospects for oil and gas prices appeared benign. When choosing capital projects, businesses in the past could mostly look through short-run fluctuations in oil and natural gas prices to moderate prices over the longer haul. The recent shift in expectations, however, has been substantial enough and persistent enough to bias business-investment decisions in favor of energy-cost reduction.

Of critical importance will be the extent to which the more than 200 million light vehicles on U.S. highways, which consume 11 percent of total world oil production, become more fuel efficient as vehicle buyers choose the lower fuel costs of lighter or hybrid vehicles.
Is this the endorsement by the chairman of the fact that we must *do something* to stimulate demand for less fuel consuming vehicles. I am not sure that Greenspan likes the CAFE standards, but this might mean that he would be in favor of some incentives for building more fuel efficient vehicles.
Conversion of the vast Athabasca oil sands reserves in Alberta to productive capacity has been slow. But at current market prices they have become competitive. Moreover, new technologies are facilitating U.S. production of so-called unconventional gas reserves, such as tight sands gas, shale gas, and coalbed methane. Production from unconventional sources has more than doubled since 1990 and currently accounts for roughly one-third of U.S. dry gas production. According to projections from the Energy Information Administration, the majority of the growth in the domestic supply of natural gas over the next twenty years will come from unconventional sources. In many respects, the unconventional is increasingly becoming the conventional.
DOE is definitely worried about the future of oil supplies. That more and more of unconventional or other sources of supply would have to come live sometime in the next twenty-five years seems like a foregone conclusion. Of course, there could be aggresive demand management efforts before we get there, but we will probably still need them.
Clearly, limited substitution possibilities across fuels have resulted in persistent cost differentials, but those very differentials inspire the technologies that, over time, reduce such limitations. A clear example is gas-to-liquids (GTL) technology, which converts natural gas to high-quality naphtha and to diesel fuel. Given the large-scale production facilities that are currently being contemplated (and some that have already begun construction), GTL is poised to become an increasingly important component of the world's energy supply. Current projections of production however remain modest. GTL promises to add a good measure of flexibility in the way natural gas resources are utilized. In addition, given the concerns over the long-term adequacy of liquid production capacity from conventional oil reserves, GTL may provide an attractive, competitively priced, option for making use of stranded gas, which, for lack of access to transportation infrastructure, cannot be brought to market.
GTLs are much more like diesel than gasoline, so we may have to gear up ourselves for driving diesels. Diesels anyone?

Will try to make some sense out of this later.


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