Natural gas conference features industry experts, Texas gas use and outlook

Switching to natural gas — which Texas produces more of than any other state — could result in an annual reduction of 30 million tons of carbon dioxide, said an industry expert Wednesday.

UT faculty, students and industry professionals attended a forum regarding natural gas use in Texas and non-traditional natural gas production. The discussion, hosted by the Webber Energy Group, the UT Energy Institute and the UT Energy Management and Innovation Center featured industry experts who spoke about the benefits, risks and opportunities presented by natural gas use.

Laura Huffman, executive director of the Nature Conservancy, said when deciding whether to use natural gas over other forms of energy, there are five environmental impacts to take into consideration. Huffman said the cost of energy must be considered as well as the reliability and the impact on the air, land and water.

Fred Beach, postdoctoral fellow in the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy and the Webber Energy Group, said the switching of power generation to natural gas in Texas is one way to make a positive impact on the environment.

Beach presented his case study on the use of natural gas in power, transportation and residential sectors. The study focused on natural gas use in Texas because it is the largest state in gas production, consumption, infrastructure and knowledge, Beach said.

“If we can’t envision the increased use of natural gas in Texas, it can’t be done anywhere,” Beach said.

Roman Alvarez, senior scientist of the environmental defense fund, said not all environmental impacts of natural gas usage are positive. Alvarez discussed the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which breaks down a rock layer in order to release natural gas for extraction, and the air pollution that is caused by this process.

“Unfortunately, in a rush to harness natural gas resources, the industry’s practices have led many to question whether the public health implications and environmental trade-offs that have been increasing domestic gas production are too steep,” Alvarez said. “I spend most of my time looking at air pollution that occurs from leaks, venting and combustion that occurs all along in the natural gas chain.”

Chip Groat, associate director for the University Energy Institute, said during the forum that unconventional production of natural gas as opposed to the production of natural gas through petroleum formation, which causes fracking, can relieve some of the concerns associated with natural gas usage.

Groat discussed several factors that can affect the outlook of natural resources, specifically natural gas.

“The future projections of economics can influence whether the energy industry or companies are willing to invest in these resources,” Groat said. “Also, if there are any environmental concerns, real or imagined, that can cause people to have second thoughts about attacking some of these resources.”

Printed on Thursday, October 20th, 2011 as: Forum focuses on natural gas impacts