Natural Gas: A Source for America's and the World's Energy Future

Natural Gas: A Source for America’s and the World’s Energy Future

Faulty energy policies affect our ability to meet daily needs. That’s the conclusion of a soon-to-be-published article that focuses on the value of fuels such as natural gas in maintaining and improving human health and well-being. Natural gas, says the report from Northwood University’s McNair Center and Michigan’s Mackinac Center, is a source of America’s and the world’s energy future.

In Europe, green policies aimed at reducing domestic natural gas production have helped create an energy crisis that is hampering the continent’s industrial and manufacturing capacity. The European Union depends on Russian natural gas exports and several European countries are considering reopening coal-fired power plants to avoid freezing this winter.

America’s loss of energy independence is less severe, but it still hits Americans in their pocketbooks. At around $3.80 a gallon, gasoline prices are about 60% higher than when President Biden took office. Distillate inventories – diesel, jet fuel and fuel oil – are at their lowest level since 2008. The Department of Energy reports that tens of thousands of jobs have been lost in the fossil fuel industry. Millions of dollars in wages and state and federal tax revenues are effectively exported to countries that have not “worked overtime” to restrict the production of natural gas and oil.

Utilities across the country are turning our electrical grid into a fragile, weather-dependent house of cards. In Michigan, for example, the utilities just shut down a nuclear power plant nine years before its operating license expired, even though the plant produced more reliable, emissions-free electricity than all wind and solar facilities in the US. State reunited.

Texas and California have experienced major blackouts in recent years. But they are not alone. The entire North American grid is threatened by energy policies that fail to balance “reliability, affordability, and environmental impact,” says Jim Robb, CEO of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. We could one day fully fuel our lives with intermittent gusts of wind and errant rays of sunshine, but that day is not today.

While some environmental activists reluctantly accept natural gas as a temporary transitional fuel, others, like the Sierra Club, continue to demand that we move beyond coal and natural gas. But as reliable factories close, power and energy systems across the country are showing signs of growing instability.

Our misplaced reliance on reliable and unreliable wind and solar power often leaves entire states or regions destitute during prolonged “wind droughts” or seasonal cloudy conditions. During times when wind and solar are not producing anything, we need dense, reliable energy derived from fossil fuels to keep the lights on. Without it, we would struggle to provide basic goods and services: transportation, medical care, heating and lighting, construction and manufacturing, computer and internet technologies, fertilizer and food production, and water purification. Reducing or ending our use of natural gas without considering these benefits would be profoundly myopic.

The increased use of gas has reduced the overall cost of energy and increased energy reliability, leading to direct improvements in human health and well-being. For example, as increasingly stringent government regulation has targeted the use of coal for power generation, low-cost natural gas—a result of the shale revolution—has been available to recover much of this lost power generation capacity.

This fuel shift from old coal-fired plants to new generation natural gas is a key reason why “U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2020…were 21% lower than 2005 levels.” Improved production technologies are also the reason we were able to reduce combined emissions of six air pollutants by 78% between 1970 and 2021.

The North American oil and gas industry is far more efficient than many of its international competitors. Russian natural gas production emits 30% more methane per unit of energy than U.S. producers, according to the International Energy Agency’s Global Methane Tracker. Despite this demonstrated effectiveness, US oil and gas producers have publicly pledged to reduce their emissions even further. When considering environmental outcomes, it makes sense to concentrate production in areas where it is done cleaner and more efficiently.

A secure supply of affordable and reliable energy is essential for the US and global economy. If state, local, and federal authorities ignore these benefits, America’s standard of living will decline, global economic and political freedom will be compromised, and the environmental impacts associated with energy development will increase in decades to come.

Jason Hayes is the director of environmental policy at Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and education institute based in Midland, Michigan. Follow him on Twitter @jasonthayes.

Timothy Nash is Vice President Emeritus and Director of McNair Center for Advancing Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship at Northwood University in Midland, Michigan.

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