Natural Gas…Can There Be Too Much of a Good Thing?

on April 26, 2017 at 1:56 PM

Natural gas is quickly becoming the dominant source of electricity in many parts of the country. While it is plentiful, cheap, and causes less pollution than coal, can there be too much of a good thing? By placing to much reliance on single fuel source for the nations electricity usage are we essentially placing all our eggs in one basket?Europe Fears Cuts In Natural Gas From Russia

The nation in general is making a switch in power generation resources, moving away from coal and nuclear power plants and swinging toward greener alternatives such as solar and wind power. However, even the most optimistic outlooks don’t view solar and wind power as being capable of supplying the nation’s power requirements in the near future. With this in mind electricity providers are increasingly moving toward natural gas.

Domestic supplies of natural gas which have been discovered in recent years could reliably provide the fuel for the majority of the countries electricity needs if sufficient infrastructure were built. However, as has been proven time and again in many industries and fields over reliance on a single source for anything can be problematic. Using a single fuel source to power the bulk of a nation’s electricity grid could spell disaster if there is some disruption in supply. In the event of a natural disaster or some type of attack the electrical grid would be less resilient and less adaptable.

The low cost of natural gas makes it difficult for some nuclear plants and coal burning plants to compete in the marketplace but as is so often the case this cheap power contains a hidden price. A lack of diversity in power generation sources means that a disruption in supply could lead to a long term lack of power with few alternatives available. Having several sources of fuel provides a degree of flexibility which allows power companies to maneuver around future obstacles.

Natural gas plants are flexible and efficient but they are reliant upon pipelines to supply their fuel and if those pipelines are somehow broken there is no alternative means of moving the fuel to the plants. Therefore in the event of a natural disaster, attack, or some other high impact event the plants will have no means providing electricity to anyone. The natural gas industry lacks the infrastructure which other fossil fuel suppliers have built up over decades – which given the prevalence of natural gas – makes it very vulnerable.

Grid planners who were once concerned primarily with weather and mechanical failures must now factor in terrorist threats when making contingency plans. Pipelines are enormous and relatively open to attack so planners need to be prepared in case the unlikely event of a coordinated attack against one or several pipelines becomes a reality. Cybersecurity experts say that such attacks are not remote possibilities but rather active and ongoing threats to infrastructure and proactive steps must be taken to continue to prevent such attacks.

This is the hidden cost of relying upon a single source of fuel, any disruption to this source could spell a much more widespread disaster than would be felt if sources of fuel were diversified. Natural gas is particularly vulnerable to these sorts of disruptions given the nature of the fuel.