A recent New York Times article discusses Cheniere Energy’s efforts to develop its Sabine Pass terminal in Corpus Christi, TX, to process and export liquefied natural gas to global markets.
The article reports on the long-term infrastructure investment strategies of energy companies seeking to expand the marketplace for natural gas extracted through hydraulic fracturing in the United States.
The article also notes some interesting factors that shape the market for natural gas, including the nature of the substance itself and the requirements of transportation infrastructure.
The article states, “Unlike oil, which has been moved around the world for decades in supertankers, natural gas, as a vapor, is much more complicated — and expensive — the transport. While pipelines carry natural gas over long distances, the only way to move it across oceans is through the L.N.G. process. Natural gas vapor is chilled to 260 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, turning it into a liquid that can be pumped aboard specially designed ships that keep it under pressure with minimal change in temperature. Upon arrival, the liquid is slowly warmed and converted back into conventional natural gas that can be delivered to customers.”
Nelson D. Schwartz, “How Cheniere Energy Decided to Take a Gamble on Liquefied Natural Gas,” The New York Times, October 16, 2017.
I was back home in the Chicago area for the holidays last week. My parents happened to mention that a house in their community had recently exploded. That’s right. Exploded.
They live in Homer Glen, a far southwest suburb of Chicago.
According to local news reports, in the afternoon of December 15 residents near 143rd and Parker began reporting the “rotten egg” smell associated with a natural gas leak. NICOR, the natural gas distribution company that services much of northern Illinois, began alerting residents, asking them to evacuate their homes. One home exploded around 4:30pm, injuring two residents, and destroying the house.
Over a dozen homes in the area were evacuated in subsequent days as NICOR worked to identify and cap the natural gas leak, and restore distribution.
I have been unable to find information as to what exactly caused the leak and explosion.
When I was searching for information about the incident, I also found a news report from this past October describing a separate natural gas explosion at a home in Romeoville, another far southwestern suburb just west of Homer Glen. Two townhouses were destroyed, and two NICOR workers who were repairing the gas leak were injured. The report notes that the exact cause of the leak and explosion were under investigation.
Last month, a natural gas explosion killed a power company employee who was working to fix a ruptured gas line in Canton, IL.
For communities in parts of Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, coal mining has sustained local economies for multiple generations. Priorities within the current regime of fossil fuel production and consumption have shifted in recent years, however, with increasing emphasis on natural gas.
Many mines have decreased operations or even closed, leading to unemployment and economic uncertainty. Donald Trump tapped into this anxiety with promises of restoring jobs in coal and energy production, railing against “job-killing” regulations. But many wonder if putting coal miners back to work is possible.
As NPR notes, “The market of coal consumers is rapidly shrinking as utilities convert to natural gas. In 2008, coal-fired plants produced 48 percent of the country’s electricity. Last year, it was down to 33 percent.”
Part of this shift is due to air pollution regulations that have encouraged natural gas as an alternative to coal, but it’s also due to the expansion of hydraulic fracturing technologies and the increase in unconventional energy production.
Across the Ohio River from Powhatan Transportation Center – owned by Murray Energy – is a power plant that services mines in West Virginia. (NPR)