Gas to food; heavy oil to roads

June 1, 1999
Anyone familiar with exploration for oil and gas in third world countries is aware of the huge undeveloped deposits of natural gas. Further, when gas is produced along with the oil in these countries, it is frequently burned as a waste byproduct. With all this natural gas either being wasted or undeveloped, local people have no access to the gas.

Anyone familiar with exploration for oil and gas in third world countries is aware of the huge undeveloped deposits of natural gas. Further, when gas is produced along with the oil in these countries, it is frequently burned as a waste byproduct. With all this natural gas either being wasted or undeveloped, local people have no access to the gas.

Often, the poor in these countries have no electricity or fertilizer for crops and are subject to recurring famines. Natural gas can easily produce both fertilizer and electricity for these people. The Petroleum Foundation of America (PFA) proposes to develop natural gas deposits to produce fertilizers for local farmers.

Oil companies exploring for oil have discovered the natural gas deposits. No commercial market for the gas exists in most developing nations, so oil companies simply abandoned these finds. PFA has identified over 2,500 undeveloped gas deposits worldwide. In addition, PFA intends to obtain natural gas that is generally flared by oil companies.

Another potential gas source is the huge methane gas supplies from coal seams that are generally not economic or too deep underground. International oil companies need large projects to justify development. With an extensive overhead, they generally have no interest in small-scale projects, even if they could turn a profit. However, even though such developments are small-scale enterprises, such gas supplies can be commercial.

The "green revolution" has enabled many countries in this last century to increase crop yields several-fold. This has been accomplished primarily by the use of high-yield plant varieties, pest control, and fertilizers. With the implementation of these farming techniques, many countries previously unable to feed populations have become net food exporters. More food can be grown on less land, thereby preserving land in its natural state - such as forests.

The fertilizer used in this process is generally cost-prohibitive, partly because it must be imported. Many of these "hungry nations" have considerable undeveloped natural gas deposits that are the main component to produce fertilizer.

Even if farmers are able to increase crop yields, such that they can take most of their harvest to market, many developing countries lack year-around roads. In this regard, PFA intends to convert heavy oil into asphalt to build roads for this purpose. Much like natural gas deposits, heavy oil and tar sands have generally not been developed by oil companies in developing countries due to lack of large commercial markets. PFA has identified these deposits and has developed a process of inexpensively processing heavy oil into liquid asphalt to build roads.

PFA intends to provide bottled gas to the indigenous poor, especially where deforestation is occurring because of the lack of fuel. Gas also will be utilized to run small power plants that will create electricity for areas where no power is available.

In most of the oil fields in developing countries, associated gas is burned, while local people near these fields have no supplies of either gas or electricity. To cook their food and heat their homes, they must burn wood, thus resulting in deforestation.

Also, the natural gas can be processed into methanol, which can be directly used as a clean burning fuel, in place of gasoline and other liquid fuels. The "wasted gas" in developing nations could be converted to methanol to solve air pollution problems. In addition, recent advances in technologies have resulted in processes to directly convert natural gas into gasoline, diesel, and other petroleum-based products.

Environmental groups may have some concerns with these programs, especially with the implementation of commercial fertilizer. However, we have seen in Africa that the lack of food and fuel has led to the hunting of wildlife and deforestation in national parks. Worldwide, rain forests are being chopped down to create new farmland.

Flares of natural gas are being burned as a by-product of oil production. At the same time, huge forest fires are created to clear more cropland. Both of these destructive practices are unnecessary. One problem could be used to solve the other.

This program could take wasted resources to save millions from starvation, and reduce deforestation and environmental degradation. To fully implement such a program, however, PFA will need support and assistance.

William Divine
Petroleum Foundation of America
San Ramon, California

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