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HYDRAIL, FRACKING AND WILLIE SUTTON

Posted on September 2nd, 2012
By guest blogger, Stan Thompson

According to Wikipedia, Willie Sutton claimed never to have said the words that elevated him in history from a habitual law-breaker to authorship of Sutton’s Law. Sutton was a notoriously successful bank robber—the original “Slick Willie.” His notoriety earned him a famous, though apocryphal, interview with a reporter who asked him why he robbed banks. His answer—“Because that’s where the money is”—made him famous, proving that even notoriety can be can be stolen. His heists landed him in the slammer but his alleged reply landed him in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, alongside Jesus, Shakespeare, and Yogi Berra.

If you were to ask the gas drilling and fracking experts responsible for America’s new-found extracted energy largesse why they drill and frack where they do, chances are you’d get the Willie Sutton answer: “Because that’s where the gas is.” But someday, if the Good Lord’s willin’ and the sea continues to rise, the answer may become, “Because that’s where the gas and the sequestering geology coincide.”

You have to poke around in learnéd publications to find the references, but a few scientists have sorted out how you can, in effect, “drill for hydrogen” in geological formations where natural gas can be extracted and the carbon dioxide from its reforming into hydrogen re-injected into the ground—sequestered.

Reforming hydrogen from natural gas is the cheapest way to obtain it. But, unless the by-product CO2 can be sequestered (or otherwise kept out of the atmosphere), the net climate effect is little better than burning the gas directly for energy. Environmental purists will point out that, even with sequestration, the natural gas resource is still exhausted eventually.

But here’s an intriguing economic twist that may compensate for that.

By making vast amounts of gas-reformed H2 available at attractive prices, the advent of hydrogen cars, buses, hydrolleys, hydrail commuter trains, standby generators, forklifts and other fuel cell applications may be hastened. The faster new H2 vehicles and other applications are introduced, the faster demand for solar, hydroelectric, tidal and other renewably-sourced hydrogen will grow to help satisfy it—in competition with depletable “extracted hydrogen.”

And wherever natural gas, sequestration geology, and local, closed or short-haul rail systems all coincide, there is an ideal situation for hydrail introduction.

So, why birth hydrail in these trifecta sites? As Willie Sutton (in his apocryphal persona) might have said, “Because it’s there…and there…and there.”

About Stan Thompson

For 33 years I worked as an engineer, planner and futurist for what is now AT&T in Charlotte and Atlanta. Though I have no engineering degree, I'm a Life Member of the IEEE. Other memberships are the World Affairs Council, the local chapter of the National Association of Business Economics and the American Institute of Archaeology. (I dig international business, so to speak.)

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