Clean, efficient natural gas helped Pennsylvania to already meet its Clean Power Plan goals, according to the head of the state’s environmental regulatory agency. Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell said during a recent state hearing:
“We were already well on our way in large part – and have actually since met what were proposed [Clean Power Plan] goals – primarily because of the shift toward cleaner natural gas.”
The Appalachian Basin – Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia – have led the United States in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in recent years, while simultaneously bolstering natural gas production. The region alone accounted for 18 percent of total U.S. carbon emissions reductions and 21.5 percent of total U.S. carbon emissions reductions for electricity generation from 2005 to 2015, according to the most recent Energy Information Administration data.
Pennsylvania is the nation’s second largest producer of natural gas and is projected to produce nearly 31.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas daily in February, according to EIA. As McDonnell noted, this abundance of natural gas has enabled the commonwealth to transition to greater natural gas use for electricity generation. The state has seen natural gas grow from representing less than 5 percent of electricity generation in 2005 to more than 36 percent of the state’s electricity mix today, according to EIA. The electric sector consumes roughly half of all natural gas used in the state.
Carbon, other emissions falling
Notably, from 2005 to 2015, Pennsylvania’s overall carbon emissions decreased more than 17 percent and carbon emissions from electricity generation declined nearly 30 percent. As a recent EID report explains, this trend is poised to continue. Pennsylvania has 16 new natural gas-fired power plants that are in the works or recently became operational.
And it’s not just carbon emissions that have been reduced because of this transition. Pennsylvania and its neighbors have also led the nation in reducing emissions of sulfur dioxide– a gas that has been described by the Environmental Protection Agency as being of “of greatest concern” with regard to health. The Appalachian Basin reduced its sulfur dioxide pollutants by 72 percent from 2002 to 2014, according to EPA data.
During the hearing, McDonnell also touched on the “big opportunity” the state has to further reduce emissions by encouraging more compressed natural gas vehicles. Recently, the DEP announced millions of dollars of funding for natural gas vehicle programs as part of a long-term initiative that “will help improve air quality and public health statewide.”
And these incredible air quality improvements are not coming at the expense of the commonwealth’s water. As McDonnell explained in 2018 at a similar budget hearing, the record natural gas production occurring across much of the state has not been a threat to groundwater. The secretary explained that in the Susquehanna River Basin – the region that has seen the most shale development – in regard to fracking, “what we’ve seen in the studies that we’ve seen are; it has been fine on the SRBC side.”
The shale revolution has been a major economic driver for the commonwealth without negatively impacting our environment. As McDonnell’s comments this week show, the abundant natural gas being produced locally is helping us to improve our air quality at a faster rate than previously imagined. And that’s something all Pennsylvanians should be celebrating.