Appalachian Basin

Ohio University Makes a Switch to Natural Gas

This week’s announcement that Ohio University will operate its Lausche Heating Plant solely on natural gas over the next few months is great news for my alma mater.  With natural gas prices at record lows, these savings will provide  the university additional funding to focus on the world-class research and education for which it is well known.

A prime example of these savings is highlighted in a recent study by Continental Economics, which showed Ohio consumers saved over $1.5 billion in energy costs last year due to shale development.  Director of Energy Management Tim Strissel hopes these savings will hold true for Ohio University:

I believe Ohio University will see the price gap of steam plant operation in 100 percent natural gas fuel mode is narrower than previously thought. The plant’s overall electrical cost is much less when only firing natural gas.

Meanwhile, a recent Bloomberg article noted that increasing use of natural gas  is starting to take a bite out of greenhouse-gas emissions.  Ohio University has always had a strong commitment to the environment so its fitting that its part of this environmental success story.

The natural gas boilers that will lead to this outcome are not new for OU, but using  them as the sole source of power generation for the plant is. That will change over the next 5 months as testing at full capacity will be conducted to quantify the price savings that can be achieved from low natural gas prices.

After the test program is determined to be successful, Ohio University will aim to produce 100%  of the plant’s energy needs from natural gas by 2015. Given the low rates currently available, and the large supply of natural gas in the U.S., the university will likely continue to see significant cost savings for a good period of time.

In highlighting the development,  the Athens News  included a comment from a student activist whose  group, “Students Against Fracking”, wants the university to only buy natural gas from wells that have not been hydraulically fractured.

That’s a promise the university can’t keep given that hydraulic fracturing is utilized to produce virtually all onshore natural gas wells in the United States.

It has been used safely and effectively as a completion technique in Ohio for more than 60 years and  in more than 1.2 million wells across the country.  In fact, it is a process that was used on my grandparent’s farm in the 1970’s.  The place where I would drink his well water when I visited him while attending school  there.  The only thing remarkable I recall  is that the water was far superior to what I had coming out of my faucet back home.

Having that personal experience, I am thankful that the incredible benefits shale development is providing – including the dramatic lowering of natural gas prices – is being recognized and taken advantage of by the university.

As a graduate of Ohio University, I am excited to see the development of the Utica Shale, and others like it, providing palpable benefits to our region.  It’d be even more exciting if more folks like the student activist recognized the incredible technologies that are making that possible.

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