Appalachian Basin

The Coordinated Attack On Ohio’s Natural Gas

The Ohio State University’s plans for the construction of a sustainable, on-campus natural gas-fueled power plant is on the receiving end of fringe activist groups’ opposition, with the Sierra Club’s Ohio Chapter leading the charge.

Peddling misinformation about the environmental, consumer, and economic benefits natural gas delivers, the coordinated efforts of local environmental organizations continue to demonstrate their commitment to stopping the successful reach of Ohio’s energy industry.

For those who are unfamiliar with the latest debate, “Keep it in the Ground” activists – primarily the Sierra Club – claim the university did not thoroughly consider “cleaner” energy alternatives such as solar, wind, and geothermal technology when drafting plans for the power plant. They also assert that the facility, while a cornerstone to OSU’s sustainable energy plan, conflicts with the city of Columbus’ community-choice energy-aggregation plan to achieve 100 percent “green” power in less than two years.

But even OSU’s Sustainability Institute program director said powering the campus with wind and solar alone is “not economically feasible.”

Natural gas producers operating in Ohio take precautionary measures – in addition to adhering to strict state and federal regulatory oversight – to ensure the work they do is safe for the environment, residents, and workers.

To say methane emissions from the natural gas industry “wipe out its advantage over coal” is not only misleading, it’s factually incorrect. Combined methane emissions from oil and natural gas systems declined 23 percent between 1990 and 2017, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2020 Greenhouse Gas Inventory. At the same time, nationwide natural gas and oil production grew by 72 percent and 49 percent, respectively.

Further, there is substantial research that current methane leakage rates are well-below the threshold for natural gas to maintain its climate benefits over coal. A 2015 Carnegie Mellon University study found that over the entire lifecycle of liquefied natural gas – from production to consumption – as long as the methane leakage rate stays below roughly 9 percent when used for electricity and 5 percent for heating, LNG will maintain its climate benefits over traditional fuel sources.

Similarly, a 2019 study published in Nature determined:

“We found that the coal-to-gas shift is consistent with climate stabilization objectives for the next 50-100 years. Our finding is robust under a range of leakage rates and uncertainties in emissions data and metrics. It becomes conditional to the leakage rate in some locations only if we employ a set of metrics that essentially focus on short-term effects. Our case for the coal-to-gas shift is stronger than previously found…”

In fact, because of America’s transition to natural gas for power generation, the United States is credited as leading the world in energy-related carbon emissions reductions, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA):

 “In the last 10 years, the emissions reductions in the United States has been the largest in the history of energy.”

And a July IEA report finds:

“Since 2010, [global] coal-to-gas switching has saved around 500 million tonnes of CO2 – an effect equivalent to putting an extra 200 million EVs running on zero-carbon electricity on the road over the same period.”

At the state level, Ohio has reduced energy related carbon emissions at a higher rate than any other state, according to Energy Information Administration data. Between 2005 and 2017, Ohio’s carbon emissions declined 24.7 percent. These air quality improvements were achieved despite natural gas consumption and production increasing by 63.5 and 1,974 percent, respectively.

Ohio, with its abundant natural resources and close proximity to major international trading ports, is an ideal location for new energy investments that bring jobs, increased tax revenue, and support community and environmental programs. The OSU power plant, in fact, is one of many proposed or underway across the state, representing upwards of $15 billion in investments.

Despite these generational benefits, some still advocate to ban shale development, which would kill roughly 700,000 jobs in Ohio alone and contribute to a $245 billion hit to the state economy in just five years, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found.

Coordinated Efforts Against Progress

Negative chatter surrounding OSU’s plant, while frustrating, is not surprising given the opposing organizations’ ties to groups vehemently opposed to natural gas development.

Groups like the Ohio Sierra Club, Keep Wayne Wild, and the Ohio Environmental Council are part of campaigns like Beyond Carbon, repeating the same misinformation to push a similar targeted goal to “end our reliance on dirty dangerous natural gas and fracking.”

These groups are part of a a coordinated effort, often with similar funding sources, to perpetuate a  never-ending cycle of amplifying the same debunked narrative and passing it off as “news”.

For example, one of the Ohio Environmental Council’s donors, the Energy Foundation, is one of the largest foundations that administers these block grants for efforts against oil and natural gas, and its end use. Their M.O?

“The principal function of the Energy Foundation has been to leverage money in a highly concentrated pattern on behalf of policies that shift markets, industry, and consumers in the direction of renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency practices.”

It comes as no surprise that one of their partners is also the Pittsburgh based Heinz Endowments, which is a multi-million foundation and a frequent donor to all things anti-oil and natural gas.

The Sierra Club itself is tied to some of the wealthiest of these donors as well, such as the Rockefeller Family Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and New York City’s former mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Another active organization in the Buckeye State, Keep Wayne Wild, is typically outspoken about their push to ban shale development in and around the Wayne National Forest, but has taken a familiar stance in opposition of the potential power plant at Ohio State:

“OSU should not power its campus on the backs of “sacrifice zones.” Fracking and pipelines harm rural communities and natural areas. They threaten our air and water and often have accidents such as leaks and explosions that put us in danger.”

And it’s not just natural gas power plants. Practically every inch of Ohio’s energy industry – from the proposed PTTG petrochemical facility along the Ohio River to pipeline disputes, and even a proposed barge facility that will be used to safely transport and dispose produced water used in natural gas and oil development – is subject to the same backlash in the never ending activist echo chamber.

But while the well-funded environmental movement believes wind and solar energy alone will power a clean energy future, those vocally opposing the OSU plant are in the minority. As a current mechanical engineering student recently wrote:

“The Sierra Club recruited students to vocally oppose this power plant, but those opponents are in the minority. Students and faculty of OSU want the environmental advancements, efficiency improvements and cost reductions that this combined heat and power plant will achieve.”

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