The Dash for Gas: The Golden Age of an Energy Game-Changer
For a fresh perspective on geopolitical trends, look at the world through the lens of the natural gas trade. One of the reasons for Israeli unease with the Arab Spring is that the democratic uprising that took down Hosni Mubarak also brought interruptions in Israel’s supply of natural gas, much of which since 2008 has come from Egypt. Wondering about China’s new interest in Australia and Qatar? It’s about their abundant gas supplies and China’s tremendous energy needs. Desperate for signs of cooperation from North Korea? Check out reports that Kim Jong-il may agree to the construction of a natural gas pipeline that would link Russia, Pyongyang, and Seoul. From Asia to the Middle East to North America, a boom in natural gas usage is rearranging international connections, with major repercussions for global politics.
Energy consumers see that natural gas is relatively inexpensive, provided it can be transported efficiently, and abundant, especially if it can be harvested from shale rock and other unconventional deposits. The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that over the next twenty-five years gas will be the fastest-growing energy source, overtaking coal as soon as 2030. Around the world, natural gas is fast becoming the fuel of choice for electric power generation, especially with nuclear losing its appeal in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. Energy experts predict gas could even displace oil in the transportation sector, as car and truck engines are redesigned. The trend has so impressed IEA analysts that the agency in 2011 boldly predicted that the world is entering “a golden age of gas.”
The implications are significant. Because gas is somewhat cleaner than other fossil fuels, its rise as a fuel source should have environmental benefits. Because it is cheaper than oil, its increased use would lower energy costs and bring energy to millions of people who lack access to it now. But among the most striking consequences of a dramatic growth in natural gas consumption would be its effect on international relations. The energy trade is an important determinant of the global balance of power, and the shift to natural gas will introduce a new set of winners and losers, bringing greater independence to many countries and reducing the energy leverage that oil producers have traditionally enjoyed. After chairing an advisory panel on the subject for the Department of Energy, former CIA director John Deutch concluded that the prospective geopolitical shifts amount to no less than “a natural gas revolution” in global affairs.