Why Natural Gas Is “Better Than Many Environmentalists Admit”

In an analysis piece for Bloomberg, columnist Matthew Yglesias highlights the environmental benefits of the American shale revolution, stating, “Natural Gas Is Better Than Many Environmentalists Admit.”

In the piece, Yglesias pushes back against criticisms from “Keep It In The Ground” activists that have criticized the Inflation Reduction Act for moving ahead with the Mountain Valley Pipeline that’s under construction in Virginia and West Virginia. Yglesias argues that natural gas infrastructure is necessary to help meet climate goals, primarily by complementing the development of wind and solar:

“Gas plants have the convenient property of being easy to turn on and off. So, a grid with plenty of gas attached to it can run mostly from wind and sunshine, with gas being provided on calm or cloudy days to ensure reliability. This mix of cheaper-than-ever renewables with cheap gas helped bring about large reductions in American CO2 emissions over the past 15 years, helping to drive many coal plants out of business and making the air much cleaner.”

Energy In Depth has repeatedly noted how natural gas is critical in the buildout of renewables by providing baseload power to ensure grid reliability, including at the Pittsburgh International Airport, where the Philadelphia Inquirer reported last year:

“Allegheny County made history when Pittsburgh International Airport became the world’s first to be powered by a microgrid, which shows how solar and natural gas can work together to provide reliable and affordable power. At the same time, natural gas produced on the airport’s land helped save the airport from default so that it can now embark on a $1.1 billion renovation.” (emphasis added)

The Yglesias column also discusses the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and how U.S. LNG exports to Europe are providing our allies with critical energy supplies and ensuring their own energy mix is cleaner than it otherwise would have been. He points out that the development of natural gas pipelines and energy infrastructure linking Appalachian natural gas to regional markets and export facilities on the Atlantic coast would actually reduce emissions, despite anti-energy activists’ insistence on blocking pipelines in the region:

“Beyond US borders, Europeans are actually re-opening coal plants as Russia shuts off supplies of natural gas. Increasing the flow of supplies from the Marcellus shale to the Northeast, as well as using the Atlantic coast LNG terminals to ship gas to Europe, will make the energy mix cleaner, not dirtier. …  Meanwhile, bad actors such as Russia gain revenue and leverage.”

Recently, the United States solidified its spot as the top LNG exporter in the world in the first half of 2022 – primarily due to our ability to produce natural gas here in the United States and ship it to Europe. Toby Rice, CEO of leading natural gas producer EQT has called US LNG exports the “biggest green initiative on the planet.”

This was underscored by last year’s report from Berkeley Labs that concluded that the U.S. power generation sector is reducing emissions faster than expected thanks to natural gas:

“Natural gas generation grew from 761 billion kWh in 2005 to 1,617 billion kWh in 2020. Assuming this growth only displaced coal and considering the relative emissions rates of gas and coal, we estimate that increased natural gas supply reduced 2020 CO2 emissions by 470 MMT or 48 percent of the total emissions reduction since 2005.” (emphasis added)

This column in Bloomberg is yet another acknowledgement of the environmental benefits of natural gas, stating:

“With today’s technology, in today’s global economy, more gas means lower emissions, not higher. That’s why a pipeline absolutely does belong in a climate bill.”

The development of renewables, falling emissions, and geopolitics all have shown this to be true.

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