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Natural gas: looking ahead to year 2000

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The natural gas industry foresees gas supplying 25 percent to 30 percent of US energy demand in the year 2000.

This relatively stable projection for gas, which currently meets 27 percent of US energy needs, stands in sharp contrast to perceptions in 1977. At that time, natural gas supplies were considered so critically short that industrial use was restricted, and the government encouraged gas users to switch to other fuels.

But in order to keep gas a major contributor to America's energy mix, there must be ''strong federal support'' for the ''unprecedented high levels of capital investment'' needed, says American Petroleum Institute (API) director W. J. Bowen.

Mr. Bowen - also chairman of the Houston-based Transco Companies Inc., a major producer, supplier, and transporter of gas, oil, and coal - bases his forecast on a soon-to-be-released American Gas Association (AGA) report: ''The Gas Energy Supply Outlook: 1980-2000.'' Bowen headed the AGA Gas Supply Committee that drew up the report.

The report projects total US energy consumption increasing from 1981's 75 quadrillion British thermal units (quads) to 100 quads in the year 2000. Currently natural gas provides 20 quads a year - meeting 27 percent of US energy demand.

Industry and US Department of Energy figures show that more than 90 percent of the present US gas supply is from conventional wells in the lower 48 states. In an early peek at report findings last week, AGA president George H. Lawrence said a major switch in the source of gas supplies must take place over the next 20 years.

The AGA report lists four possible ''gas supply scenarios'' to choose between. These range from total reliance on US supplies backed by import restrictions, to various degrees of reliance on Mexican and Canadian gas, or finally to unrestricted imports of gas from overseas.

At present, 8 percent of US supplies come from ''supplemental souces'' such as Alaskan, Canadian, and Mexican gas; gas from unconventional underground formations; liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports; renewable urban-waste methane production; and coal gasification. Mr. Lawrence said that with government support, these sources could account for 50 percent of supplies in 2000.

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