Our other energy crisis.

Making government work better.
May 11 2004 2:47 PM

Got Gas?

Oil isn't the only fossil fuel that's in crisis.

(Continued from Page 1)

Longer term, the gas picture is more complex. On the positive side, the higher prices may act as a kind of corrective to the supply imbalance, both by depressing American demand (many big industrial gas users are simply shutting down and moving to Europe, where gas is cheaper) and by encouraging companies to import LNG as fast as is politically possible. Higher gas prices—and the corresponding higher electricity prices—will also tend to make alternative energy sources look attractive: The high gas prices of 2000 helped touch off a boom in wind farms in the United States.

The downsides, however, are significant. U.S. electricity demand shows no signs of slowing, and that is likely to suck up any new gas supplies as quickly as they appear, keeping the gas market relatively tight. Tight markets are prone to volatility: There is no slack, no spare gas in the system to cover, say, an unexpected cold snap. Prices can whipsaw violently, which not only hurts consumers and businesses, but makes energy companies leery of investing in gas and LNG infrastructure, because they never know where the price will wind up—and thus, how quickly their investment will pay off. This reluctance, in turn, only further retards the expansion of gas supplies, which adds even more upward pressure to prices.

Advertisement

But the biggest loser may be the emerging vision of a gas economy. If markets remain tight, we'll be so busy trying to supply our power plants that we won't have much gas left over for any new applications—for, say, making synthetic gasoline, or hydrogen for fuel cell cars, or microgrids, or any of the other elements that might make up a new energy economy. To be sure, markets have a way of correcting themselves. High prices will eventually bring on new supply, especially in the form of imports, and this new supply will eventually help fuel the transition to a cleaner energy system. But it won't happen as quickly as it might have, and this delay could prove costly. For every year we remain with the existing energy economy—generating our power with coal, or running our cars on oil—will not only increase the damage to the environment, but also make it harder and more expensive to change to something better.

TODAY IN SLATE

Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company

Sports Nut

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Food

How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

Scotland Is Inspiring Secessionists Across America

The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant

The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant
Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
The World
Sept. 18 2014 1:34 PM Americans Fault Obama for Giving Them Exactly the Anti-ISIS Strategy They Want
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 18 2014 12:47 PM How One of the Most Prolific Known Forgers in Modern History Faked Great Works of Art
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 12:03 PM The NFL Opines on “the Role of the Female”
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Everyday That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
  Arts
Television
Sept. 18 2014 1:41 PM Television for Adults The Good Wife is cynical, thrilling, and grown-up. It’s also TV’s best drama.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 1:24 PM Can the Celebrities Whose Photos Were Stolen Really Sue Apple? It may be harder to prove “harm” than it seems.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.