Natural Gas:  What’s Real vs. What You May Hear

Read Time: 5 min

Natural gas is one of the most abundant energy resources in the world. Its development, distribution and use deliver significant economic, environmental, social, health and community benefits. As energy sources compete in the marketplace, it’s helpful to know the facts about natural gas: 

Topic: Impact of natural gas on climate change and air quality

Facts: Natural gas is the cleanest-burning of all fossil fuels and emits lower levels of emissions like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. In fact, it emits 50 to 60 percent less carbon dioxide when combusted in a power plant, compared to a traditional coal-fired plant. The International Energy Agency has credited natural gas with helping the United States become a global leader in reducing CO2 emissions. In 2018, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that the United States has reduced energy-related carbon emissions 14 percent since 2005. According to the data, the United States has achieved 861 million metric tons of CO2 reductions since 2005 at the same time natural gas consumption has increased 25 percent

Here in Pennsylvania, the shift away from coal-fired electricity to natural gas power generation has helped the state achieve GHG reductions below its 2005 levels.

In addition to CO2 emissions, the drilling and extraction of natural gas from wells and its transportation in pipelines results in the leakage of methane, a greenhouse gas with about 25 times the global warming potential of CO2.  Many opponents to increasing domestic oil and natural gas production, argue it will lead to a rise in emissions of methane. But according to data from the EIA, methane emissions remain flat. In fact, the U.S. is producing record amounts of crude oil and natural gas without seeing a rise in methane emissions.  

“A key development since the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is the rapid deployment of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies, which has increased and diversified the gas supply and allowed for a more extensive switching of power and heat production from coal to gas (IEA, 2012b); this is an important reason for a reduction of GHG emissions in the United States.” 

U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Topic: Shouldn’t we be supporting more renewable energy in PA?   

Facts: Natural gas and renewable energy are complements, not competitors. The numerous economic and environmental benefits of natural gas make it the ideal foundation to advance the deployment of renewables in Pennsylvania. Natural gas-fired generation can rapidly ramp up and offset renewable energy’s intermittence, helping make renewables more economically feasible in the long run. As additional solar and wind power comes on line, natural gas will continue to grow as a cleaner source of baseload and intermittent grid support when the sun doesn’t shine, and the wind doesn’t blow. For every kilowatt of renewable electricity, there must be a kilowatt of back-up.  Natural gas helps fill the gaps, to maintain affordability and reliability while simultaneously reducing emissions. 

“As more and more variable resources are brought into the electricity system, the more you are going to need natural gas for the balancing of that system.”

Ernest Moniz

Former U.S. Department of Energy Secretary

Topic: The natural gas industry’s tax payments to Pennsylvania’s treasury and communities – are they fair?

Facts: Pennsylvania has a unique natural gas tax on shale wells known as the Impact Fee. The fee is paid annually by unconventional natural gas producers for each well they drill, each calendar year to compensate state and local communities for the industry’s demands on the environment and public infrastructure. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) collects the funds and distributes them to counties, municipalities and the state. In 2018, the annual fee generated $252 million. Since 2012, the fee has raised nearly $1.7 billion, which has been used for an array of community projects including public infrastructure improvements, emergency preparedness and response, environmental protection, social services, records management and tax reduction.  You’ll hear it said that Pennsylvania is the only major natural gas producing state without a severance tax, but you should also know Pennsylvania is the only state that taxes producers with an Impact Fee that benefits local communities directly.

“Pennsylvania’s tax on natural gas, the impact fee, is working as designed and is an important revenue source for statewide environmental and conservation programs, as well as communities in all 67 counties,”

David Spigelmyer

President of the Marcellus Shale Coalition

Topic: How are the potential impacts of fracking on environmental and public health managed?

Facts: In order to be approved for fracking and drilling, a long, rigorous regulatory process is required that ensures drilling is performed in an environmentally responsible manner. Up to 40 individual permits specific to a well’s location are required to drill a natural gas well in Pennsylvania. Additionally, agencies in Pennsylvania have stringent groundwater regulations during both the drilling and well stimulation process. There are layers and layers of steel casing and cement with strict control procedures to protect groundwater sources.  Because of these efforts by companies, to date, state and federal oil and gas regulatory agencies have not documented one case of drinking water contamination related to the stimulation of an oil or natural gas well. According to the Groundwater Protection Council, the chances of groundwater contamination due to this process is as low as 1 in 200,000,000.

“We found that hydraulic fracturing processes are being carried out in a way that has not led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water.”

Thomas Burke

Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Research and Development at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Topic: Natural gas pipeline safety. 

Facts:  Pipelines are energy lifelines. Underneath our feet are a lattice of pipelines – tens of thousands of miles of interconnected metal and plastic – that carry natural gas and other byproducts to businesses and residents.  According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, pipelines are the safest, most environmentally-friendly and most efficient and reliable mode of transporting natural gas. The design, construction, operation, inspection and maintenance of all pipelines are subject to both federal and state regulations and requirements, and regular inspections are performed by state regulators. The American Gas Association reports that natural gas utilities spend $22 billion annually to help enhance the safety of natural gas distribution and transmission systems. 

“The products in our 2.7 million-mile pipeline system reach their destinations without incident 99.9997 percent of the time – a rate of success that anyone would have to say is very good.”

Howard Elliott, 

Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration 

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