BUENOS AIRES, Oct. 12 (UPI) -- Natural gas is universally taken for granted as a fuel inevitably associated with crude oil, but it is set to play a more important role in meeting future energy needs than generally assumed, delegates attending the World Gas Conference said.
The conference was hosted by Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
One of the vocal advocates of gas as a clean future source of energy, BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward, told the conference, "Natural gas has often been described as a 'bridge fuel' to a lower carbon future. It's definitely that," he said, adding, "it can be much more."
Using the technology available today, greater use of natural gas can provide world consumers with "the quickest, most realistic path to achieving the largest emissions reductions at the lowest cost," said Hayward.
"It can be a 'destination fuel' -- a fundamental fuel in a lower carbon world. Natural gas is here. It's now. It's cleaner. It's more affordable," he added.
"We need to take carbon out of the energy mix today and we need to be realistic about how we're going to do that."
The solution is through a diverse energy supply -- particularly in the power sector, which Hayward said would be "one of the principal drivers of growth in global demand for energy to 2030."
That diversity will require the continued use of fossil fuels, nuclear and alternative energies such as wind, solar and biofuels.
But, he said, until "renewables gain a sizeable share of the power sector and cleaner coal is available through carbon capture and storage, I can see only one way of doing it -- by increasing the use of natural gas."
Major gas producers from the Middle East, Asia and Latin America cited gains made in gas development projects, including plans for new gas pipelines in politically volatile areas that appear to be more vulnerable than the shipping routes for crude oil or liquefied natural gas.
Torstein Indrebo, secretary-general of the International Gas Union, said the gas industry has to strike a delicate balance between security, supply and demand.
Analysts cited Europe's experience of uncertain gas supplies from Russia and how they changed the dynamics of the EU's dealings with Moscow.
Industry delegates said in addition to countries with abundant proven supplies of natural gas, other areas also had potentially vast deposits still waiting to be exploited.
Sixty percent of BP's resources in North America, including Canada, are held in reservoirs where rock permeability is so low that the gas molecules cannot flow into production wells.
Experts say the challenge for scientists seeking new technologies is to turn these "tight gas resources," which represent a source of long-life production in a stable environment, into reserves flowing into production wells.
According to BP's Statistical Review of World Energy in 2008, proven global gas reserves reached more than 6,500 trillion cubic feet, with enough reserves in place to provide the equivalent of 60 year's consumption at current rates. Reserve estimates are rising steadily as technology unlocks unconventional resources.