Record setting US “Natural Gas Power Burn”… Frac yeah!

Guest “burn, baby, burn!” by David Middleton

According to the US Energy Information Administration, these nominally United States set a new record for natural gas-fired electricity generation in July 2020.

Figure 1. Daily US volume of natural gas consumed for electricity generation (billion cubic feet, Bcf). US EIA

On July 27, 2020, US power plants burned 47.2 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of natural gas, beating the previous record by nearly 2 Bcf. The US also set a record for electricity generation from natural gas, peaking at “316 gigawatts (GW) in the late afternoon” of July 27.

Figure 2. Daily Lower 48 electricity generation by source. US EIA

Of the electricity generated on July 27 in the Lower 48 states, natural gas held the largest share at 45%, followed by coal with a 24% share. Remaining shares included nuclear at 17%, renewable energy at 12%, and other sources at 3%.

Natural gas is a key power generation resource because it has the flexibility to supply electricity at any time, including at times of peak demand. In contrast, some renewable energy technologies and nuclear power plants may be nondispatchable and not able to adjust their generation to meet load. For example, nuclear power plants may already be running at or near maximum capacity and may be unable to respond to shifts in load.

The U.S. electric power sector has been moving toward more natural gas-fired and renewable-powered generation and away from coal-fired and nuclear-powered generation during the past several years. For example, between 2011 and 2019, 103 coal-fired power plants with a total of 22.2 GW of capacity were replaced by or converted to natural gas, primarily in the eastern half of the country.

From January 2019 through May 2020, the United States added 13.8 GW of new natural gas-fired net summer capacity and retired 5.4 GW. The net change of 8.4 GW is second only to the 12.6 GW added for onshore wind turbines since January 2019, according to EIA’s Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory.

Combined-cycle power plants have generated most of the new natural gas-fired capacity, using the latest high efficiency natural gas turbine technology. The retired natural gas-fired plants were less efficient steam plants or combustion turbines. This change has allowed the fleet of natural gas-fired generators to provide more electricity for a given level of natural gas consumption.

US EIA

The net addition of 8.4 GW of “new natural gas-fired net summer capacity” will actually be capable of generating nearly twice as much electricity as the 12.6 GW of new onshore wind capacity. Combined cycle natural gas-fired power plants can deliver >85% capacity factor. Wind generally struggles to maintain 30%.

  • 0.85 x 8.4 GW x 24 hr/d x 365 d/yr = 62,546 GHh/y
  • 0.3 x 12.6 GW x 24 hr/d x 365 d/yr = 33,113 GHh/y

And, natural gas works at night and when the winds don’t blow (or blow too hard).

Perspective

While electricity generation is the top end use for natural gas in the US, it only accounts for about 36% of the total demand.

Figure 3. Natural gas consumption by sector. US EIA

No single State currently provides enough natural gas to cover just the demand for electricity generation.

Figure 4. US natural gas production by State. US EIA

“Shale” plays currently account for about 75% of US natural gas production and no single play produces enough natural gas to cover just the demand for electricity generation, although the Marcellus and Utica, combined, come close.

Figure 5. US “shale” gas production by play. US EIA

What if…?

(Dana) BASH: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Just to clarify, would there be any place for fossil fuels, including coal and fracking, in a Biden administration?

(Joe) BIDEN: No, we would — we would work it out. We would make sure it’s eliminated and no more subsidies for either one of those, either — any fossil fuel.

Second Night of Democratic Debate, July 31, 2019, CNN

While Mr. Biden has subsequently said he would not ban frac’ing, he has more or less said that he would or would not do many contradictory things… What if frac’ing was banned? Or if “shale” actually “died” as in the failed prediction of many financial analysts? Where would we get the natural gas, upon which our economy depends? Alaska? The Gulf of Mexico? Other offshore areas that have never been open to drilling?

The US outer continental shelf (OCS) has enormous oil and natural gas resource potential.

Figure 6. Undiscovered technically recoverable resource potential, US OCS. BOEM.

While 327.58 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) would only provide for a bit more than 10 years worth of current consumption, past history tells us that government agencies always grossly underestimate what the oil industry will find and produce. Alaska’s North Slope has already produced 16 billion barrels of petroleum liquids. Currently developed areas will ultimately produce a total of about 30 billion barrels. The government’s original forecast for the North Slope’s total production was 10 billion barrels. The current USGS estimate for undiscovered oil in the Bakken play of Montana & North Dakota is 25 times larger than the same agency’s 1995 estimate. In 1987, the MMS (now the BOEM) undiscovered resource estimate for the Gulf of Mexico was 9 billion barrels. Today it is 48 billion barrels.

The MMS increased the estimate of undiscovered oil in the Gulf of Mexico from 9 billion barrels in 1987 to the current 48 billion barrels because we discovered a helluva a lot more than 9 billion barrels in the Gulf over the last 30 years. Almost all of the large US fields discovered since 1988 were discovered in the deepwater of the Gulf of Mexico. In 1988, it was unclear whether or not the deepwater plays would prove to be economic.

However, only the Western and Central Gulf of Mexico areas are currently open to exploration.

While the Gulf of Mexico’s significance in natural gas production has declined since the advent of the “shale” revolution, recent YUGE deepwater discoveries have begun to reverse that trend.

Figure 7. Gulf of Mexico natural gas discoveries coming online 2016-2019. US EIA.

Of particular note are the discoveries in eastern Mississippi Canyon, Viosca Knoll and De Soto Canyon. Many of these are in the Jurassic Norphlet formation. While the average productive well in the Gulf of Mexico yields about 1 million bbl of oil and 7 Bcf of gas, the two most prolific gas wells ever drilled in the Federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico were Norphlet wells in the shallow waters of Mobile Bay, each producing over 270 Bcf of gas. Most of the Norphlet play is in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico (offshore Florida), which is off limits to exploration.

Since crude oil and natural gas will be the life-blood of our economy us for decades to come, when Mr. Biden says, “[W]e would work it out. We would make sure [US fossil fuel production is] eliminated,” where does he expect it to come from? Russia?

Who’s up for some Deep Purple?

54 thoughts on “Record setting US “Natural Gas Power Burn”… Frac yeah!

    • Good article but did it mention the natural gas use increase has a negative effect on the US coal industry … that Trump promised to save in 2026.

      It is very hard to believe that anyone would want to replace natural gas with expensive, intermittent, unreliable solar and wind power.

      Even harder to believe burning wood and disguising that fact by calling it biomass.

      The foundation of economic growth is cheap reliable energy. If our electricity becomes more expensive and unreliable from ramping ip renewables use, as in California, even more US manufacturing will move to Asia.

  1. Whole lotta renewables backup generation goin’ on. What I like to refer to as reliable power. Gotta have it. Frac on!

  2. David thanks for the article.
    I am curious and have a broad question about natural gas for heating and cooling.
    Are there states that dominate in the use of gas for heating and cooking?
    Thanks

    • I can’t find the exact answer to your question but this link has interesting information.

      You can select whether the web page will display ng consumption by use or by state. The biggest use, by quite a bit, is electricity generation, followed by industrial followed by consumers.

      The biggest consuming state is Texas and then California at about half what Texas uses.

      The thing that complicates your question is that consumers consume ng directly for heating but use electricity for cooling.

      My direct experience, having lived in southern Canada and the northern states is that ng use is mostly for heating. The ng bill drops to almost nothing in the summer when it is used only for water heating and cooking.

      The one big surprise I got was Louisiana’s ng consumption. In spite of being only the 25th most populous state, Louisiana consumed more ng than any state except Texas and California. WUWT?

      • My experience here in NC mirrors yours. I use NG for whole house heating, gas fireplaces and cooking. Electricity heats the water, runs the AC, powers the sauna and lights the house. My NG bill in Jan was $265 and just $19 in July. Even using an outside NG grill, summer use of NG is very low.

      • The plastics, fertilizers, liquified gases (N2, Argon, etc), and other petrochemical industries in Louisiana that concentrate along the Mississippi River directly consume natural gas to run many of those processes.

      • Thanks all.
        The fact sheet highlights that only 36% of ng goes to electricity production.
        For all of USA 18% goes to residential.
        My thinking is which state disproportionately uses a lot of ng for non electricity production.
        How will that state survive if it has to rely on renewables.

        BTW
        I live in Melbourne Australia. We currently have a long cold winter and a COVID lockdown.
        My gas heating bill is going to be huge.

      • Ok thanks I found more info on EIA
        https://www.eia.gov/dnav/ng/ng_sum_lsum_dcu_SIL_m.htm

        Places with cold winters such as New York and Illinois rely heavily on ng for residential heating in winter. In January Illinois uses fives times the ng for home heating an cooking than it does for electricity generation.
        A. How can we convert theses homes to renewables ?
        B. How can solar and wind warm theses houses in the shorter, darker days of winter?

        It is my guess that the ability to rely on renewables in cold places over winter such as Illinois is more of an issues than their reliability in hot places over summer such as California.

        • For decades we’ve known how to build houses that can stay warm with little more than the body heat of the occupants, without suffocating said occupants. Some friends in North Dakota (which is darn cold in the winter) have such a house and have to keep the blinds down on sunny winter days to avoid baking.

          • Unfortunately such houses have to have good AC in summer and good fan-driven ventilating systems all year to stay inhabitable. We have a lot of them here in Sweden. AC in homes was virtually unknown here before, now it is booming.

        • California needs a lot of electricity in hot summers. We have a lot of renewable energy thanks to hydro, but I doubt that solar and wind will ever be able to stand alone without significant ng peaking backup. As it is, California buys a fair amount of peak energy from out of state, but this year many of those states had limited supply because of heat and hence the California rolling blackouts. Perhaps as more industry moves out of the state things will get better w/r to energy requirements. Even those hi-tech buildings use a lot of air conditioning which means a lot of big compressors using a lot of electricity.

  3. “Alaska’s North Slope has already produced 16 billion barrels of petroleum liquids. Currently developed areas will ultimately produce a total of about 30 billion barrels. The government’s original forecast for the North Slope’s total production was 10 billion barrels. ”

    That estimate in 1969 was for the Prudhoe Bay Field. Pruchoe fed the pipeline, which issued a Billion Barrel Poster, August 1977 to January, 1980. Last I looked, thruput had dropped well under 500,000bbl/day.

    • Yep… And if ANWR and the Alaska OCS not opened up soon, TAPS may be forced to prematurely shut down, stranding billions of bbl of oil.

      • Absolutely correct. This has been discussed on Alaska talk radio and policy sites for years. Present trends look like production will remain at or above required pipeline levels, especially with recent ownership changes.

  4. ….but California legislators are shuttering NG power generation because it doesn’t reduce CO2 enough….haven’t calculated the area of real estate required by wind and solar to replace an underground natural gas field….haven’t considered that maybe someday methane from their decomposing garbage could partly fill those same pipelines (without pipelines it will just be vented at 85 times worse than CO2, or whatever the CH4 hypists are up to this year)…don’t want nuclear either….their future involves buying a lot of power from generators in other states, but their CO2 down stats will look good to virtue signalling politicians who have brainwashed urbanites who think polar bears are cuddly.

    • It’s interesting that California is also shutting down ng installation at new homes. Here is a state where energy is flaky and it really hurts when electricity is shut down for hours due to concerns of power lines causing fires or a downed line in a storm. And now they are telling us new homes cannot have ng installed. I have ng, but a previous owner did a remodel and pretty much went electric. I did a remodel and made sure our stove was dual fuel: ng (top burners) and electric (oven) and am so glad I did. With the various electric outages, the ng stove top has been a real saver. At least we are able to boil water and cook. If we were all electric we would be crying in our hot beers.

  5. This is insane. You are fracking the planet to death. Tragic.

    Nuclear makes no sense until we address safety and spent fuel.

    • LOL, “fracking the planet to death.”
      Feelings much there Snowflake?

      Insanity is taking advice regarding energy issues from to ignorant bartenders who have useless degrees in gender studies, marxist economics, and political “science”.

    • Hey, Joe,
      Nuclear has the best safety record of any type of power generation, hardly kills ANY birds and bats, and the spent fuel will become a highly valuable resource as we built modern reactors that burn it!
      Try putting down the Koolaid and reading some books like Schellenberger’s “Apocalypse Never” or Lomborg’s “False Alarm!” They haven’t gotten all the way to climate reality, er, I mean skepticism, but they might be able to talk you down off that ledge!

    • How exactly does one frack a planet to death?

      Nuclear is already the safest form of power out there.
      The spent fuel problem has been solved, it’s just that you nut cases won’t permit re-processing.

  6. Great news for your economy. Despite all the attempts to destroy it to remove the duly elected President, Donald Trump or to trash his reelection chances, and to straight out destroy your country from within (“no borders, no wall, no USA at all”), your economy just keeps fighting back.

    Maybe there is hope yet for my country? You are an inspiration.

  7. America has to become Energy Smart. We need all forms of energy to supply America with enough energy
    24 / 7 /365 to keep us energized. Here in California right now we have a lot of renewable (solar and wind) that even with all the batteries can’t keep us out of rolling blackouts.
    America needs coal and natural gas and nuclear energy to keep us energized. Lets use the renewables to energize it’s own energy grid supplying energy to America’s growing EV market needs. When the sun goes down and the wind is not blowing and the batteries run out of juice – it’s time to park the EV and wait for tomorrow for a recharge. No harm done.

    • Germany and California have proven that wind and solar are unworkable without storage, and that storage is prohibitively expensive. EV’s are great toys for rich boys, but electrifying the transportation sector would require $trillions of upgrade to the electrical grid. The extensive environmental data collected these past thirty (30) years has proven that CO2 is not only not an imminent ecologic threat, but clearly not the climate control knob. In fact, the most recent CO2 studies indicate an absolutely miniscule and negligible addition to warming. Early models, projecting large temperature increases from burning “fossil fuels”, have now been proven wrong by the past thirty (30) years of data. There is zero benefit for continuing poking money down the green rathole (IMHO). Natural gas now and a gradual phase in of NuScale modular reactors beginning in 2030. MAGA

    • Why should we adopt forms of energy that don’t work, just because you seem to be fascinated with them?

  8. Let’s also look at using our natural gas more efficiently. Today approximately 60% of all the natural gas combusted is wasted. It goes up chimneys across this country and is vented into the atmosphere as hot exhaust. With the technology of Condensing Flue Gas Heat Recovery the natural gas can be consumed to well over 90%. Being vented into the atmosphere will be cool exhaust. For every 1 million Btu’s of heat energy that gets recovered and utilized, 117 lbs of CO2 will not be put into the atmosphere.
    There is so much more that can be done to Increase America’s Energy Efficiency and Reduce CO2 Emissions.

    • If you replace a NG furnace in your house in the US it is going to be pretty darn efficient. All mine are over 90% efficient and vent outside using PVC pipe. They also use outside air for combustion. Furnaces don’t last forever and attrition will get us down the road to efficiency over the next 10 years.

    • Using condensation NG heater in Europe for around 16 years. Efficiency 107% against 93% regular heater. You just need attachment to sink for condensed water.
      Another advantage is that plastic pipe for chimney is enough, because it is under 60C.

    • Notice how Sid just assumes that individuals aren’t capable of deciding for themselves what is best for them and their family.

  9. Figure 2 “renewables” needs to be broken down. Half of that is probably hydroelectric production and 5 – 6% is wind and solar………. after all these years and investment.

  10. A great article David. The main impact of course is that the emissions are greatly reduced and this includes the SO2 component (leads to acid rain) that is avoided when natural gas is the main source of thermal energy. Not only does the US have a great source of low cost energy it also made it difficult for other economies to compete against it. If ever there were a series of benefits for fracking then low cost clean energy must be at the top of the list. The Trump administration has put in the basics to ensure that the US wil be an economic powerhouse for a long time to come nothwithstanding the basket case in California. Compare the nonsense attitude in Australia that has occurred with an increasingly unreliable grid leading to higher energy costs that puts the country at a huge disadvantage

  11. Love the Deep Purple reference. It gave me flashbacks.

    Natural gas is just a great source of electricity. You can have the gas turbines close to where it will be used to minimise transmission losses. So flexible and reliable. Here’s hoping we use it for the next hundred years or so.

    It has given the USA such a great opportunity to relax about supply and take a bit of time to develop whatever comes next (LFTR, fusion, Zero Point bwa ha ha ha). Okay the zero point is unlikely but would be so cool and hey, ya never know given how ingenious some folks are.

  12. Germany and California have proven that wind and solar are unworkable without storage, and that storage is prohibitively expensive. EV’s are great toys for rich boys, but electrifying the transportation sector would require $trillions of upgrade to the electrical grid. The extensive environmental data collected these past thirty (30) years has proven that CO2 is not only not an imminent ecologic threat, but clearly not the climate control knob. In fact, the most recent CO2 studies indicate an absolutely miniscule and negligible addition to warming. Early models, projecting large temperature increases from burning “fossil fuels”, have now been proven wrong by the past thirty (30) years of data. There is zero benefit for continuing poking money down the green rathole (IMHO). Natural gas now and a gradual phase in of NuScale modular reactors beginning in 2030. MAGA

  13. US should built more nuclear electrical power plants. And I think US should build
    off shore nuclear electrical power plants.
    And US almost did that:
    “That time we almost built 8 gigawatt-class floating nuclear power plants”
    Nick Touran, 2020-01-26. Reading time: 17 minutes
    https://whatisnuclear.com/blog/2020-01-26-offshore-power-systems.html

    “Each floating nuclear power station (FNPS) would contain two or more FNPPs within a protective breakwater. The individual plants were to be 1150 MWe Westinghouse four-loop PWRs with ice-condenser containments. They had once-through steam condenser cooling with no cooling towers. Electricity was to be transmitted at high-voltage (345 kV) through submerged cables beneath the sea bottom. A shore support facility would provide a staging area, a docking facility, office buildings, and parking.

    In lieu of massive concrete foundations, the bulk of the concrete would be in the breakwater, which required 17,000 concrete dolosse (which resemble child’s jacks), with each dolos weighing between 11 and 62 tons, interlocked into an armor surface to protect from storm-generated waves and to prevent ships from colliding with the FNPPs. The cassion sand fill was expected to be sourced from the sea bottom.”

    That sounds expensive. Just the 17,000 times 11 to 62 tons [of anything}.
    But anyhow, what is the key aspect is making the breakwater.
    And making it cheap.
    And I would I think building a floating breakwater which anchored to ocean floor is the way to go. And put them 10 km off shore.
    But not aware any such thing ever made.
    Oh I didn’t bother to look this up. Here go:
    Positive points of floating breakwaters:
    Floating breakwaters represent an alternative solution to protect an area from wave attack, compared to conventional fixed breakwaters. It can be effective in coastal areas with mild wave environment conditions. Therefore, they have been increasingly used aiming at protecting small craft harbours or marinas or, less frequently, the shoreline, aiming at erosion control. Some of the conditions that favor floating breakwaters are:
    http://www.coastalwiki.org/wiki/Floating_breakwaters
    –Types of floating breakwaters
    Floating breakwaters are commonly divided into four general categories:
    Box
    Pontoon
    Mat
    Tethered float.–
    So I am going with Tethered float
    Oh here is something:
    https://waveeater.com/videos.html
    https://waveeater.com/

    So something vaguely like waveeater but a lot bigger. And those waveeater are used in shallow water. Whereas have much larger tethered floats, and each one piled anchored to ocean bottom. And don’t think you use plastic- need material with higher strength.
    This somewhat interesting:
    http://sfmarinausa.com/floating-breakwaters/
    More interesting:
    “As introduced in the book by Patri and Wayne, Breakwaters are really important for ocean colonization: they present significant cost benefits which are essential to make an ocean community of a certain size, not just a single fancy hotel or business park. It is also a subject being discussed in the engineering forums.”
    https://www.seasteading.org/costs-floating-breakwaters/

    My idea is about ocean colonization- and it could better idea to build towns on ocean before trying it for use with nuclear power plants.

  14. Another great article, David. In honor of my sister living up at Lake Tahoe I just listened to “Smoke on the Water!” It could be Calizuela’s new theme song, but they don’t deserve one that good! Hope your staying safe and dry!

  15. I’ve posted similar comments on other articles, but the continued use of the term “renewables” for solar PV and wind turbine power is, quite simply, a lie.

    They are not renewable in any meaningful sense. They don’t produce as much energy as they consumed in their production over their working lifetimes. And when they reach their retirement at age 15 to 25 years, they cannot be recycled.

    And by lumping in the one renewable power source, hydro, with solar and wind, the article is trying to legimatize bad policy.

    • Don’t forget the contribution from biomass which is counted as renewable. All those woodlands and forest areas being cleared to feed a huge wood fueled power plant like Drax, here in the UK will not regrow in an average lifetime.
      If biomass was taken out of the renewables column then the wind and solar numbers would look as sick as they are.

    • Wind and solar should be named “unreliables”. That would be a *far* better term to use as a description. It would hopefully bring some of the low-info voters along to understanding the costs associated with wind and solar.

    • And where is the electricity to power all of these heat pumps coming from? Clear cutting forests for Drax biomass? What happens when ambient air temperature is below -10C?

      I hope you’re in favor of low carbon nuclear power!

  16. In the Greenidiot New Delusion ideology, the ultimate goal is to get rid of both production as well as use of fossil fuels. The Green Fascists War on Coal was just a preview, providing a blueprint for their much larger War on Fossil Fuels. Indeed, one could argue that the ultimate intent is to destroy the US, since affordable, reliable energy is the engine of our economy, and they mean to throw a monkey wrench as well as pour sand into said engine.

  17. Looks like Joe Biden is a classic case of Middleton’s Law!(Improvement means deterioration.

    • Biden is a classic case of the Septic Tank Principle: The really big chunks float to the top.

  18. When you hear:
    (Dana) BASH: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Just to clarify, would there be any place for fossil fuels, including coal and fracking, in a Biden administration?

    (Joe) BIDEN: No, we would — we would work it out. We would make sure it’s eliminated and no more subsidies for either one of those, either — any fossil fuel.

    You wonder who is more ignorant – Dana or Joe.

    Fracking is not a fossil fuel. Fracking (an extraction technique not a fossil fuel) has been used for decades for oil and gas extraction. What’s new is horizontal fracking pioneered by small oil/gas companies.

    If Biden becomes president, with AOC and Kerry setting energy policy this country will be toast!

  19. record for NG, half a clap!

    what about coal? 55K coal workers when His Excellency was inaugurated, 48K today. On the bright side, taxpayers will have a diminishing bill for Black Lung, etc. as the ‘retired’ coal miners die off.

    cheers, or something

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