16 October 2009

$24 Billion Blowing in the Wind

Several days ago the NYT had an interesting article about methane explaining that,
. . . some three trillion cubic feet of methane leak into the air every year, with Russia and the United States the leading sources, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s official estimate. (This amount has the warming power of emissions from over half the coal plants in the United States.)
According to NaturalGas.org "In its purest form, such as the natural gas that is delivered to your home, it is almost pure methane." Natural gas has an energy content of about 1 QUAD (quadrillion BTU) per trillion cubic feet. This means that the three trillion cubic feet referenced in the New York Times story is equal to about 3 QUADs. In 2008 the US consumed about 24 QUADs of natural gas, so the escaped methane worldwide is about 10-15% of total US consumption (domestic methane escape as a percentage of US consumption is about 1-1.5%).

At $8 per 1,000 cubic feet three QUADs of natural gas equates to about $24 billion. So if I've done my math right, uncaptured methane globally is like letting $24 billion float up into the air. How high would the price have to increase before eliminating that 1-1.5% inefficiency in the US becomes economically desirable? Or are there other obstacles than cost? If it was dollar bills floating away rather than methane molecules I'd have to think that somebody would be building a big net.