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Study: Natural gas is a wellspring for our energy future

November 29, 2022

The McNair Center at Northwood University with its partner, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, provide comprehensive analysis

 A new report released today by Northwood University’s McNair Center for the Advancement of Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy concludes that flawed energy policies are harming our ability to meet everyday needs.

The study, “The Truth About Natural Gas: A Wellspring for the U.S. and Global Energy Future,” focuses on the value of fuels like natural gas to maintain and improve human health and welfare. The study’s authors — Dr. Timothy G. Nash, Jason Hayes, Dr. Dale Matcheck, Joshua Antonini and Andrew Reder — find that natural gas is a bountiful source for America and the world’s future.

The study’s release already is causing conversation, following previews by Populist Press (Drudge Report) and Townhall.

“A secure supply of affordable, reliable energy is essential to America and the global economy,” states Nash.

“If state, local and federal officials ignore the benefits of natural gas, America’s standard of living will decline, global economic and political freedom will be harmed, and environmental impacts associated with energy development will expand in the decades to come,” adds Hayes.

The study at a glance

The study looks at Europe, where green policies aimed at reducing domestic natural gas production have helped create an energy crisis that is hobbling the continent’s industrial and manufacturing capacity. The European Union is dependent on Russian natural gas exports, and several European nations are considering reopening coal plants to keep from freezing this winter.

America’s loss of energy independence is less severe, but it is still hitting Americans in their wallets. At around $3.80 per gallon, gas prices are about 60% above the price when President Joe Biden took office. Distillate inventories — diesel, jet fuel, and heating oil — are at their lowest levels since 2008. The Department of Energy reports that tens of thousands of jobs have been lost in the fossil fuel industry.

The study’s authors found that across the nation, utilities are transforming our electric grid into a fragile, weather-dependent house of cards.

“In Michigan, for example, utilities just closed a nuclear plant nine years before its operating license expired, even though the plant produced more reliable and emissions-free electricity than all of the state’s wind and solar facilities combined,” states Nash, vice president emeritus and director of the McNair Center for the Advancement of Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship at Northwood University.

Texas and California have experienced significant blackouts in the recent past. But they’re not alone. The entire North American grid is threatened by flawed energy policies.

“We may someday fully power our lives with intermittent gusts of wind and errant sunbeams, but that day is not today,” noted Hayes, the director of environmental policy for the Mackinac Center, a research and educational institute based in Midland, Michigan.

While some green campaigners reluctantly accept natural gas as a temporary transition fuel, others, such as the Sierra Club, continue to demand that we move beyond both coal and natural gas. But as reliable plants shut down, electricity and energy systems across the nation are showing signs of growing instability.

The authors write that our misplaced trust in reliably unreliable wind and solar often leaves entire states or regions lacking during extended “wind droughts” or seasonal cloudy conditions. During the times that wind and solar produce nothing, we require the dense and reliable power derived from fossil fuels to keep the lights on. Without it, we would struggle to provide basic products and services. Reducing or ceasing our use of natural gas would be deeply shortsighted.

Benefits of natural gas

The study also found that the increased use of gas has reduced the overall cost of energy and increased energy reliability, both of which led to direct improvements in human health and well-being. For example, as increasingly strict government regulation has targeted the use of coal for electricity generation, low-cost natural gas — a result of the shale revolution — has been available to pick up much of that lost energy production capacity.

That fuel-switching from older coal plants to newer natural gas generation is a key reason that American greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 were 21% below 2005 levels. Improved generation technologies are also why we’ve been able to decrease combined emissions of six criteria air pollutants by 78% from 1970 to 2021.

“The North American oil and gas industry is far more efficient than many of its international competitors,” explains Nash. “Russian natural gas production emits 30% more methane per unit of energy than American producers, according to the International Energy Agency’s global methane tracker. Despite that demonstrated efficiency, American oil and gas producers have publicly committed to even further emissions reductions. When considering environmental outcomes, it makes sense to focus production in areas where it is done more cleanly and efficiently.”

Read the full study here.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Dr. Timothy G. Nash is vice president emeritus of Northwood University and the director of the university’s McNair Center for the Advancement of Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship. Jason Hayes is the director of environmental policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. He is also a research fellow at the McNair Center, and has served as an adjunct instructor at Northwood. Dr. Dale Matcheck chairs the economics department at Northwood University and holds a David E. Fry chair in free market economics. Joshua Antonini is an environmental policy intern for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, and a research scholar on environmental and public policy issues for the McNair Center. Andrew Reder is student research scholar with the McNair Center and an honors student majoring in economics at Northwood University.

ABOUT NORTHWOOD UNIVERSITY

Northwood University is committed to developing transformative leaders of a global free-enterprise society and preparing students for success in their careers and communities. Rooted in the Northwood Idea, the University promotes the importance of free enterprise, ethics, individual freedom and responsibility. Private, nonprofit, and accredited, Northwood University specializes in managerial and entrepreneurial education at a full-service, residential campus located in Midland, Michigan. The Adult Degree Program is offered in multiple states and online for students with transfer credits and work experience who are looking to complete their undergraduate degree. The DeVos Graduate School of Management has day and evening, and online delivery options. The Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) program is delivered online, with a differentiated focus on leadership and business analytics using both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. International education is offered through study abroad and at International Program Centers in Switzerland, China, Sri Lanka and United Arab Emirates (UAE). For more information, visit www.northwood.edu.

ABOUT THE MACKINAC CENTER FOR PUBLIC POLICY

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to improving the quality of life for all Michigan residents by promoting sound solutions to state and local policy questions. The Mackinac Center assists policymakers, scholars, businesspeople, the media and the public by providing objective analysis of Michigan issues. The goal of all Center reports, commentaries and educational programs is to equip Michigan residents and other decision makers to better evaluate policy options. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is broadening the debate on issues that have for many years been dominated by the belief that government intervention should be the standard solution.

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