The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted daily life for everyone here in the commonwealth but it is encouraging to see that regulators for essential and life-sustaining industries are doing their part to maximize the well-being of Pennsylvanians.
First, on the front lines, private industry is helping by making available the most state-of-the-art technologies for Pennsylvania’s first responders free of cost. Energy Transfer, operator of the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex and Mariner East pipeline system, which runs through the county, has covered the cost of “X2 MR glasses” for local fire departments in the commonwealth. These glasses use thermal sensors to detect abnormal temperatures, a symptom of the novel coronavirus.
Second, specific praise goes out to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for adjusting their public hearings to accept comments from those originally planning on appearing in person. On behalf of the Consumer Energy Alliance, I was intending to participate in a public hearing, supporting considerations for two Marcus Hook Industrial Complex (MHIC) air permits in Delaware County in May.
What does that have to do with Washington County? The Marcus Hook Industrial Complex is a processing and storage facility for natural gas liquids produced right here in Southwestern Pennsylvania’s Marcellus and Utica Shale formations. Those products are transported via the Mariner East pipeline system that is now in operation.
The permits will help support the ongoing revitalization of the complex, a critical step in maximizing the economic potential of the commonwealth’s natural resources. Our state is already on its way to valuable energy development; success there depends on an adequate infrastructure buildout that ensures the safe transport of these products.
Already, Pennsylvanians have enjoyed the fruits of the growing energy sector. A study by the Consumer Energy Alliance showed that natural gas consumers have saved billions – $30.5 billion to be exact – over the course of a decade as Pennsylvania coal was displaced by Marcellus natural gas. These savings come in a variety of forms for Pennsylvanians, including from lower rates for household energy bills, commercial power, and the myriad of industries that use natural gas. It may surprise some people, but agriculture operations are some of the heaviest natural gas users, particularly crops that require drying and storage.
This is just one reason for Pennsylvanians and the Department of Environmental protection to support the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex air permits.
Another has to do with the sustainability of the environment moving forward.
Pennsylvania led the country in coal production and coal-fired energy production for decades. That started to change in the early 1990s as natural gas production, transport, and processing become more efficient. The marriage of the Mariner East pipeline system to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex would only make this transition more efficient.
Since economies of scale have made the processes so affordable for industry (who are able to pass savings along to consumers), Pennsylvania has jumped to second in total natural gas production nationwide. Some of this has been good fortune. Pennsylvania is strategically located in proximity to portions of the Marcellus and Utica shale reserves, but a lot is owed to private sector investments and industry innovation.
That transition to natural gas as the bellwether of the state’s energy portfolio has decreased emissions in the state nearly 90% since 1990 as natural gas production grew eleven-fold from 2010 to 2018. Specifically, key pollutants fell across the board: 72% reduction in nitrogen oxides (NOx), 2% reduction in sulfur dioxide (SO2), and 18% reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2).
The U.S. Department of Environmental Protection recently released data that showed Marcus Hook reduced CO2 emissions considerably since 2010. This is all due to energy transitions, new technology, and facility upgrades.
During times of unprecedented oil price volatility and growing unemployment, it is important that we empower essential operations like Mariner East and Marcus Hook to provide inexpensive energy to families, farmers and businesses.
Mike Butler is Mid-Atlantic Executive Director of Consumer Energy Alliance, Pittsburgh.