Rural Americans Increasingly Benefiting from Expanding Natural Gas Services

The benefits of the shale energy revolution continue to be felt far and wide across the United States. Abundant domestic natural gas production has made the commodity more affordable than ever, leading more communities to use it as a source of energy. At this point, even far-flung rural communities are able to invest in natural gas infrastructure, making the low-carbon fuel available in places where Americans have not previously had access to it.

For example, natural gas will be coming to Esko, Minn., this summer for the first time in the town’s history, according to the Duluth News-Tribune. The Minnesota Energy Resources Corp (MERC) – the nearest utility offering natural gas — is building its first new pipeline for a town in 20 years, a testament to how affordable natural gas is changing how energy is used nationwide. “We are really excited,” said Pam Sarvela, the external affairs manager at MERC, to the Duluth News-Tribune.

Citizens of Esko could all easily benefit from this rural expansion project, because the local school district will heat its buildings with natural gas instead of relying on more expensive propane that needs to be delivered by truck.

“We’re basically going from a 1956 heating system to a modern system,” said Superintendent Aaron Fischer, who told the News-Tribune that savings for the Esko School District will be “substantial.”

Esko requested the extension of natural gas lines to its schools several years previously and is glad to see it finally happening this year. Furthermore, 750 other customers in Esko will be eligible to use the newly available natural gas. “Once we get the system gassed up, then we will bring service lines into each home that orders it,” said Sarvela. Residents of Esko are free to choose whether they want to opt-in to have natural gas service.

Minnesota isn’t alone in its quest to bring better energy services to its rural residents. Thirty nine states are exploring natural gas expansion proposals, according to the American Gas Association (AGA), thanks to the economic and environmental benefits available to natural gas users. Businesses that use natural gas in place of other fuels have saved $76 billion since 2009, according to an AGA report. At the residential level, households using natural gas for heating, cooking and clothes drying save an average of $874 per year over households using electricity for those applications.

Pennsylvania, for example, is making the most of its place in the heart of Marcellus and Utica shale country. One of the state’s utilities, UGI, launched a program two years ago called GET Gas with the goal of expanding natural gas access to homeowners across Pennsylvania. UGI is trying to implement natural gas heat across the 42 counties it services in Pennsylvania with the GET Gas initiative.

Depending on the size of one’s home, UGI says customers switching from oil, propane or electric heat can save up to $2,400 per year on their heating bills by switching to natural gas under the program. It simply wouldn’t be possible without the development of shale energy and pipeline expansions.

With the domestic energy boom showing no signs of slowing down, the extension of natural gas to rural customers is all but guaranteed to continue, reviving the economies of small-town America along the way.

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