Natural Gas is a Fossil Fuel: Do We Really Want to Burn It?

One of the most promising potential rivals capable of competing with petroleum in the liquid fuel market is methanol made from natural gas. But some people don't like it because it is a fossil fuel. I would like to offer an argument in favor of natural gas, despite its fossil fuel status:

It is being burned anyway.

When drilling for oil, natural gas comes up too. It could be captured and sold, but natural gas is now so cheap and plentiful, many producers around the world simply flare it — they burn it just to get rid of it.

A recent satellite photo shows the flaring taking place in the Bakken fields, which flares the equivalent of one fourth of all the natural gas being used in the United States. The Bakken fields are only one of many places in the U.S. doing this. And it is being done in oil fields all over the world.

If the natural gas now being flared was turned into methanol and sold at the current price of 93 cents a gallon, it could displace a lot of gasoline. At the moment, we're burning both. We're burning gasoline (a much dirtier fossil fuel) to move our cars and we're flaring off natural gas for no purpose whatsoever. If the market was opened to methanol as a liquid fuel (one of the outcomes of the Open Fuel Standard), significantly less total fossil fuel would be burned. And it would create a market for other inexpensive non-fossil fuels, like methanol made from municipal waste, which would reduce landfill bulk and pollution and decrease the burning of fossil fuels even further (using market forces rather than costly government regulation).

The fastest way to true fuel competition is a bill now in Congress: The Open Fuel Standard.

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