The question needs to be asked; what is our true national energy policy? Beyond all the exaggerated claims and political pontifications, why are we not about a realistic national focus based on geography, science, and economic viability? The oil shale development in Texas, New Mexico, and North Dakota demonstrate we can meet with good planning all our oil needs independently for the foreseeable future. Yes no matter how green our energy becomes we will need oil, for it will be a lengthy and expensive transformation to relying on renewables, so let’s control costs and pay ourselves in the process.
Closer to home eastern Ohio, northern West Virginia, and our own western, and northeastern Pennsylvania contain the cheapest clean natural gas reserves in the world. This in turn is one of the cheapest global energy sources available to be used and managed prudently to benefit us locally, strengthen us nationally and contribute positively to global sustainability.
But politically much of this gets lost in the claims we cannot survive the planet-warming as if we are the dinosaurs that did not survive the planet cooling. We cannot emit CO2 into the atmosphere, so we should stop breathing, and we need to rely on the wind, water, and sun to produce all the electricity we need.
From a story that appears in the June 2021 issue of Oil and Gas Investor magazine. “They call it “sausage-making” for a reason. Forging public policy is an ugly process, inexact, complicated, and messy, and often defies logic. This is not a process to which scientists and engineers, like those in the oil and gas industry, can easily relate.
Our energy complex, however, is also imperfect—composed of an intricate system of drilling, completion, production, gathering, separation, processing, pipelining, storage, refining, liquefaction, marketing, shipping, generation, transmission, and distribution. Each segment has a complex series of laws and regulations requiring compliance. Each segment also is a target of politicians, NGOs, and activist groups that initiate protests, permit challenges, lawsuits, legislative and regulatory challenges, shareholder proxies, and media attacks.
So what does one do? Individual citizens, interest groups need to counter all the natural gas negatives with some positives. Before the Marcellus/Utica gas development in the early 2000’s natural gas prices were at times between $15.00 and $19.00 an MCF. The same gas today ranges between $2.00 and $3.00 per MCF. Now according to the Energy Information Energy, we now generate more electricity 40.3% from cleaner-burning natural gas. Heating our homes and about 53% do with natural gas, has saved residential customers significant dollars. The Pennsylvania Utility Commission (PUC) estimates the average customer in the state using natural gas for heat has seen their costs reduced by over a thousand dollars annually. Electricity rates have been positively impacted by the transition to natural gas, According to PIOGA a gas interest group the average high cost during the summer months between 2007-2009 was 11.7 cents/kWh, while the same high rate between 2018-2020 was 13.26 cents/kWh, or about 12 percent below the rate of inflation.
A comparison of average electricity costs in 2019 for mid-Atlantic states shows Pennsylvania with far lower rates than its neighbors, at 9.81 cents/kWh, with Delaware (10.52 cents/kWh), Maryland (11.24 cents/kWh), New Jersey (13.42 cents/kWh) and New York (14.34 cents/kWh) all higher. Only Ohio (9.58 cents/kWh) has rates comparable to those paid by Pennsylvania residents.
Further in the last five years the United States carbon emissions have been consistently reduced meeting and exceeding targets because of the increased use of natural gas. But even with these demonstrated benefits of natural gas, Pennsylvanians are faced with a barrage of negative opinions of further development of this clean alternative energy and ever-increasing overstated benefits of solar and wind renewables. Again this exemplifies the divide that exists in this state and in the country. Residents of the western part of the state know the sun shines less here, and though the wind blows in the mountains most of the time it is not consistent. For these energy sources to work they demand there must be financial subsidies from the taxpayer as well support facilities like super banks of batteries all the while the gas turbine turns efficiently and reliably each minute of each day. Perhaps the answer to the opening question is beneath our feet.