THERE'S nothing like boosting the worth of a vital commodity at a time when it doesn't need much of a boost.
Consumption of natural gas is soaring because of cold weather, yet President Barack Obama used part of his State of the Union address to encourage greater consumption of ... natural gas.
Two stars are crossed here. First, the global warming over which Obama expresses so much alarm isn't in evidence. It's so cold that gas consumption is running at record levels. January set seven of the top 10 all-time demand days for gas.
Second, since fossil fuels are believed to be causing the climate change that isn't happening now, Obama wants gas to be a bridge to a starry, starry night in which all energy needs will be supplied by renewable sources. But current conditions indicate that gas is a bridge that was built long ago: About half of U.S. households now use natural gas as a primary heating source.
Obama's friends in the climate change alarmist community would prefer that natural gas not be a bridge to anything. Having urged us to move beyond coal, they'd prefer we also move beyond oil, tar sands, natural gas, propane, CNG, LNG and presumably kerosene and whale oil as well.
Bridges run in two directions. The federal Energy Information Agency says that even by 2035, renewables will account for only 16 percent of electricity generation. The winner and still champion at that time, with a 39 percent share, will be ... coal. This represents a gradual increase for renewables and decline for coal.
The reality is that gas will take over some of coal's share of the electricity generation market regardless of what happens in Washington. But what happens in Washington could determine the price of the toll for crossing the bridge to our energy future. Gas supplies have been abundant because of energy industry innovation and pro-industry public policy in most producing states.
If policy changes restrict access to supply, prices will go up. Policy is already dictating that U.S. coal will be left in the ground or exported, thereby forgoing a chance to keep energy prices relatively low by encour-aging a mix of fuel sources for heating and electricity generation. The bridge to our energy future should include a lane for coal, one for gas and others for oil, renewables, nuclear and other sources.
Our destination should still be focused on renewables, but wind and solar should not get a dedicated, crony capitalist lane on the bridge. Every fuel source will be needed to promote economic growth and keep heating and electricity costs at an affordable level while renewables continue their gradual ascent.
Obama checked his own enthusiasm for gas as a bridge fuel by injecting the caveat “if extracted safely.” This is either naive or pandering. Energy exploration and production is messy; the environmental community will never concede that hydraulic fracturing is safe. Indeed, the greens reacted to the speech by noting that while gas is cleaner than coal, it's still quite dirty and should be viewed as a lesser evil but an evil nevertheless.
The gas industry should feel encouraged that Obama has renewed his earlier enthusiasm for natural gas to heat and power this country. But when the rubber hits the deck on the bridge to our energy future, federal policy must not overly regulate the exploration and production of vital commodities, including oil and gas.