MSC in Morning-Call: How Pennsylvania’s natural gas boom has led to carbon emission cuts

By David Spigelmyer & Tony Seiwell

This year, we celebrate Earth Day with cleaner air and water than when the event was created 50 years ago, thanks to decades of collaboration and innovation. The United States is well positioned for continued environmental success, with American natural gas serving as the latest catalyst for positive progress.

As the nation’s second-largest natural gas producing state, with output reaching 6.2 trillion cubic feet in 2018, Pennsylvania is at the tip of the spear in realizing these generational environmental benefits.

From developing well sites to laying pipelines, the tens of thousands of men and women who make up our industry — including many in the skilled union building trades — are committed to protecting the health and well-being of the public and environment.

Operating under some of the most stringent and rigorous environmental standards in the nation, Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry earned a 98% regulatory compliance rate following nearly 20,000 state inspections last year. Companies often exceed these standards, by conducting meticulous inspections, testing and ever-advancing technology.

Evidence shows these efforts are paying off. The industry’s focus on limiting emissions has helped lower combined methane emissions from oil and natural gas systems 23.2% since 1990, according to data released recently from the Environmental Protection Agency. During this same time frame, natural gas production has increased 50%.

Despite the increased development, independent studies have shown no impact to water quality or quantity in Pennsylvania streams and state forests. In fact, “Marcellus-produced waters are not influencing stream chemistry,” a recent Department of Environmental Protection-funded study concluded.

What’s more, as our industry remains focused on protecting our shared environment, natural gas is opening environmental doors that were unimaginable a decade ago. Greenhouse gases and emissions of air pollutants have decreased as natural gas production has increased to meet our growing energy demands.

In Pennsylvania, carbon emissions tied to electric power generation have fallen nearly 30% since peaking in 2005, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Internationally, the United States leads the world in energy-related carbon dioxide emission reductions.

These achievements are not despite the shale revolution, but rather because of it. With modern horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technology, we are also producing record amounts of natural gas with significantly less surface disturbance. And we are transporting this energy in the safest, most efficient means possible ― via pipelines constructed by building and construction trades unions.

Without the infrastructure connecting America’s production, consumers will be left in the dark, forced to get their energy from less clean and more expensive energy sources. Consider New York’s energy blockade, which has largely cut off New England from accessing affordable Pennsylvania-produced natural gas.

In turn New York has blocked the Constitution Pipeline that would have delivered gas to New England and New York City, then the Northern Access Pipeline, the Millennium Pipeline extension and the Northeast Supply Enhancement. Families there are forced to pay some of the nation’s highest price for natural gas.

As we take stock in these environmental gains, any conversation about clean energy must be grounded in the partnership that will make its success possible. Natural gas and the needed infrastructure are the solution to continued climate progress.

While it is important to recognize these achievements, we must not rest on our laurels. There is always room for progress, which is why natural gas companies are committing to ambitious environmental goals, such as methane reduction and water recycling programs.

As natural gas production provides Americans with an affordable, around-the-clock energy source, we continue to make collaborative environmental progress. That is an achievement certainly worth celebrating Wednesday, on Earth Day.

Tony Seiwell is the business manager for PA Laborers’ District Council. Dave Spigelmyer is president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

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