Natural Gas Leads to a Cleaner Environment, Stronger Economy

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(This article first appeared in the Allentown Morning Call)

By David Callahan, Marcellus Shale Coalition

Clean air, water and a good-paying job are the fundamentals on which every Pennsylvanian should agree. Thankfully, natural gas is making this a reality for everyone in the commonwealth, including in the Lehigh Valley.

That’s right — the natural gas that is trapped miles beneath our feet has lead to historic clean air improvement; steady, family sustaining employment; and is keeping the power running around the clock. And the proof of this undeniable progress is in the data.

Pennsylvania’s air is cleaner than ever before, and, according to a new Marcellus Shale Coalition analysis of Department of Environmental Protection and Environmental Protection Agency data, increased use of natural gas for  power generation has delivered $450 billion to $1.04 trillion in public health benefits.

By assigning EPA’s dollar value methodologies to each ton of nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides reduced, Pennsylvanians are realizing $7.9 billion to $18.4 billion in nitrogen oxides and $445.1 billion to $1.02 trillion in sulfur oxides cumulative public health benefits.

Natural gas is the cleanest and most affordable electric power generation source available today. It addresses the most critical pillars of a strong, reliable power grid, and its steady growth over the last two decades has resulted in a significant reduction in harmful air pollutants.

Today, natural gas makes up nearly 60% of electricity generated in Pennsylvania — up from less than 5% in 2005.  From 2005-2022, sulfur oxide emissions are down 11.1 million tons and nitrogen oxide emissions are down 1.3 million tons.

Those decreases improve air quality, which alleviates respiratory ailments. Consequently, the benefits from a cleaner environment lead to tangible decreases in the costs associated with medical conditions that are exacerbated by air pollution.

On top of these direct public health benefits, natural gas use has slashed carbon emissions in half compared with 2005 levels. This is equivalent to taking 12.5 million cars off the road for an entire year, which equates to removing every car in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and seven other neighboring states combined.

In fact, emission rates in the PJM power grid that covers Pennsylvania and our surrounding states reached a “record low” in 2023. According to PJM data, the results are staggering, as the grid’s carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt hour have been halved while harmful air pollutants have dropped to near-zero numbers.

Natural gas represents a critical tool in the global effort to address environmental concerns, and Pennsylvania is leading the way by providing these tangible and quantifiable achievements. Thanks in part to natural gas, Pennsylvanians are breathing cleaner air than ever in our lifetimes, which directly translates to an improved quality of life for all Pennsylvanians.

By leveraging the benefits of natural gas, not only do we enjoy improved air quality, but we also enhance our economic growth and America’s energy security.

Consider too that the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania supports over 100,000 family-sustaining careers, boosts state tax revenues and generates billions in economic benefits. In 2022 alone, the natural gas industry contributed more than $41 billion in state economic activity, with an additional $6.3 billion royalties paid to private and government entities.

It’s no wonder bipartisan leaders at every level of government recognize the benefits natural gas delivers to Pennsylvania. State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming, said about the health benefits, “Those numbers are reflective of the benefits of natural gas. Natural gas is a necessary part [of power generation] if we are going to have any reliability.”

Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, told the Financial Times in April that natural gas “is critically important to our state.” Democratic U.S. Sens. John Fetterman and Bob Casey noted “this industry has created good-paying energy jobs in towns and communities across the commonwealth and has played a critical role in promoting U.S. energy independence.”

Their voices are joined by key Republican leaders, building trades leaders and small businesses across Pennsylvania.

With energy issues front and center in campaigns across Pennsylvania, we should be wary of false promises and unrealistic energy goals, and keep in mind that Pennsylvania natural gas provides benefits we all desire, including clean air and affordable, reliable energy that is providing family- and community-sustaining jobs right here at home.

David Callahan is president of the Pittsburgh-based Marcellus Shale Coalition, an organization that advocates for natural gas development.