U.S. Energy Abundance Saves Thousands of Lives Annually

Tens-of-thousands of lives are saved annually as a result of access to affordable, reliable energy, according to a new National Bureau of Economic Research analysis.

The working paper released earlier this month by the national, non-partisan research center examines how the price of home heating affects mortality in the U.S. Residential natural gas savings – driven by increased domestic production thanks to hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling – lowered the winter mortality rate by 0.9%:

“We find that lower heating prices reduce mortality in winter months. The estimated effect size implies that the drop in natural gas prices in the late 2000s, induced largely by the boom in shale gas production, averted 11,000 winter deaths per year in the US. We also find that the effect does not just represent short-run hastening of mortality.

This effect size is large enough that it should not be ignored when assessing the net health effects of shale production of natural gas. The findings also highlight the health benefits of other policies to reduce home energy costs, particularly for low-income households.”

This boost in energy savings has been especially beneficial for lower-income groups, since fuel costs eat up a larger share of their more limited earnings. As the paper explains, “Exposure to cold is one reason that mortality peaks in winter, and a higher heating price increases exposure to cold by reducing heating use. It also raises energy bills, which could affect health by decreasing other health-promoting spending.”

More than half of households in Pennsylvania rely on affordable, clean-burning natural gas for heating, realizing meaningful energy savings in the process. Over the past decade, utility rates for purchased gas costs within the commonwealth have dropped dramatically, from 53-78%, depending on which utility used.

Access to the affordable fuel source is growing as technological advancements and increased efficiency in the domestic oil and gas industry continue to redefine the new normal. More than 60 percent of the electric generating capacity installed in the U.S. in 2018 was supplied by clean, domestic natural gas. Meanwhile, U.S. natural gas production in 2018 reached an all-time high for the second straight year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) announced earlier this month, with Appalachia holding the title of largest natural gas-producing region.

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