West Virginia and the value of national gas
Recently, United States Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm visited West Virginia to tour the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Morgantown. She learned firsthand that this region is vastly different from other areas around the nation in its natural gas production.
When compared to the rest of the nation, the Marcellus and Utica basins have the lowest carbon emissions of any major oil and gas play in the nation. The basin – found across West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio – is considered “Best in Class” by Rystad Energy, an achievement that the rest of the nation’s oil and gas companies are trying to reach. And nationally, the EPA reports that the oil and gas industry has seen a 23% decline in methane emissions from production over the last several years all while production has increased substantially.
The United States is not only energy secure, but we are also now a net exporter of oil and natural gas – meaning we export more than we import. Not only is this good for American consumers, but it has also been good for the environment. This is the reason why the industry has been pushing new advancements in technology for greater control of emissions and supporting regulation of methane -the product it sells. And still, the industry understands even more can be done.
West Virginia sits in the PJM regional transmission area -which is our “grid.” PJM (which originally stood for Pennsylvania, Jersey, Maryland) presently comprises an area including all or parts of 13 states and the District of Columbia and serves 65 million people. West Virginia is completely within the PJM. One can visit the grid’s website to see what the diversity of the fuel mix – which usually runs around 113,000 MW on a given evening. Of that 113,000 – approximately 46,000 is natural gas; 33,000 is nuclear; and 29,000 is coal. The remainder is from renewable resources including hydro, wind and solar.
PJM is a competitive wholesale electricity market which has encouraged the investment in, more efficient technologies. A significant increase in new wholesale generation including combined-cycle natural gas power plants has led to significant decreases in emissions across the PJM. From 2005 to 2020, PJM reports that CO2 fell 39%. Nitrogen oxides fell 86% and sulfur dioxides fell 95%. From 2019 to 2020, those same emissions fell 7%, 20% and 22% respectively.
Because of the increase in renewable resources which are intermittent based on when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining, natural gas power plants provide quick response to fill in the gaps for when these resources are less productive. Additionally, natural gas provides an indispensable, dependable baseload.
In the United States alone, natural gas production is expected to hit 93.3 billion cubic feet per day (Bcfd) by next year and 100 Bcfd two years after that. Meanwhile, the Marcellus and Utica are responsible for roughly one-third of all the shale gas being produced in the country. Pennsylvania and Ohio have found a use for all of that gas in a number of new wholesale generator combined-cycle natural gas power plants that have recently come online or are presently under construction.
In West Virginia and surrounding states, natural gas is responsible for the significant drop in carbon dioxide and other emissions from the electric grid from which we power our daily lives. All while simultaneously lowering methane emissions across the nation according to the EPA. The men and women of the natural gas industry have one more thing to be proud of in knowing that their work not only keeps the lights on in our homes and businesses, but also keeps our air cleaner at the same time.
(Tim Miley was elected as the Speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates in 2014 after serving as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He received his undergraduate degree in finance at Southern Methodist University and his Juris Doctorate from Duquesne University.)