The U.S. natural gas industry seems to have a brighter future than its oil sister under a Biden administration, even though the president-elect has made a pledge to push an ambitious emissions-cutting agenda during his term, aiming for a net zero electricity sector by 2035 and net zero economy by 2050.
According to industry sources, the sharp rise in investor appetite for environmental, social and governance investments will not affect the natural gas space too much, with opportunities opening up for a consolidation of the sector, Mergermarket reported for Forbes this week.
A consolidation is already underway in the oil sector, prompted by the latest news from the pandemic front, with vaccines widely seen as a solution to the demand loss problem that has made some smaller players in the field attractive for buyers.
While oil is falling out of favor fast with the new breed of environmentally conscious investors, natural gas will simply be indispensable for the observable future to provide the reliability of electricity supply that solar and wind simply cannot offer at this point.
Industry advisers point to California’s blackouts as a case in point here: the state that leads in renewable power also leads in grid unreliability. While some state administration officials have defended the shift to renewables saying it has nothing to do with the increased risk of blackouts, others have blamed the rush to go renewable for the blackouts.
Reliability of power supply is what many experts argue will ensure the long-term future of natural gas even in a world that is setting increasingly ambitious climate change fighting goals for itself. Solar and wind only produce power intermittently and they need energy storage to become as reliable as fossil fuels. However, storage technology needs to advance a lot from current levels, which can only provide storage for a couple of hours, in case of a sudden outage, for example.
Gas, on the other hand, is not intermittent and the United States has abundant supplies of it, especially in the shale plays. Thanks to forecasts for a rebound in demand for natural gas, especially overseas, producers have been ramping up their output, while still keeping a cap on oil production.
“Demand has remained pretty robust. Supply has been starved for capital,” the chief executive of energy investment firm Banpu Kalnin Ventures told Reuters last month. The Thailand-listed company recently acquired the natural gas assets of Devon Energy.
The positive sentiment on natural gas goes beyond the energy industry, too. A recent Deloitte survey revealed that most executives believed natural gas had an essential role to play in the world’s energy transition, Natural Gas Intelligence reported, noting the survey also suggested this role will be reduced or evolving as gas is pitted against renewables.
Essential it may well be but for now, natural gas is trapped between the power industry’s “decarbonization strategy of focusing on low-carbon fuels and the broader impetus to replace gas with renewables for electricity generation,” Deloitte noted in the survey.
“Other challenges include the ongoing problem of fugitive methane emissions associated with gas, as well as the growing electrification of the broader energy system.”
The methane issue has been garnering growing attention from various stakeholders and the energy industry has been doing a lot more to reduce emissions. In fact, this year U.S. oil producers managed to capture a record amount of associated gas.
The electrification issue, on the other hand, may well turn into an opportunity for more natural gas demand if renewables’ inherent disadvantages prevent them from meeting this additional demand for electricity.
Emission-cutting targets are all well and good until the actual fact that the world’s energy demand is growing sinks in. Solar and wind cannot meet this growing demand on their own for the abovementioned intermittency reason as well as because even in the Sahara, the sun does not shine 24/7 and even in the North Sea there may be windless days. Until these problems are solved, the world will continue to need fossil fuels and natural gas is the best placed among them to fit in with the transition to a less fossil-fuel intense energy sector.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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