Most people would find it plausible to expect that the Federal government at some level, acting in partnership with state governments, will continue to revisit and evolve environmental public policy, as well as, new regulations impacting energy sourcing and usage. This pattern has been bipartisan in nature, although at different intensities depending on the politics in place. With new international treaties moving forward in trade and climate, it is likely there will continually be pressure to advance the related public policy in a parallel fashion.
There are a number of factors contributing to the decline of carbon emissions. With little doubt, the contribution of new shale gas production and the associated trend in the U.S. towards new natural gas-fired power plants replacing aging coal units, has made a sizable contribution due to market forces, essentially the lower price of gas in the short and longer terms. The trend towards natural gas in power generation is expanding regionally and globally. In Pennsylvania, there are two new combined heat and power (CHP) gas turbine facilities being built in north central counties in 2015, at a cost of $1.8 billion, with the capacity to generate over 840 megawatts (MW) of power each, and supply upwards of 1 million homes from the grid. In the same area, an older coal-fired unit is being converted to gas and will have even greater capacity when commissioned in 2017. And if you look for a global example, the UK announced in October 2015, their move off of coal by 2025 for power generation, backfilled by domestic natural gas and LNG, and supplemented by additional renewables.
Overall, there will continue to be advancing interest in reducing the environmental footprint of energy production. Educating the public that current energy technologies of all types, have an environmental impact of some type, should be an important goal for everyone in the public policy energy dialogue. Continually conducting research and applying new technologies will create the solutions to mitigate true environmental risk. Just looking at the shale gas industry over the past five years, one can see the rapid changes that have occurred in industry best management practices, matched to successful regulatory protocols, which have greatly reduced risk and allowed the production of large volumes of gas, leading to the significant conversion of our electric power industry. In a like fashion, LNG is a mature industry with advanced technology that reduces its environmental footprint on the export side and contributes to greatly reduced carbon emissions when it is used to substitute for other fuels in import countries. And since improving air quality is a global issue not limited by borders, these are tools that can be used now as we make a transition to the new energy paradigm of the future.
Tom Murphy is Director of Penn State's Marcellus Center of Outreach and Research (MCOR). With 29 years of experience working with public officials, researchers, industry, government agencies, and landowners during his tenure with the Outreach branch of the University.
His work has centered on educational consultation in natural resource development, with an emphasis specifically in natural gas exploration and related topics. He lectures globally on natural gas development from shale, the economics driving the process, and its broad impacts including landowner and surface issues, environmental aspects, evolving drilling technologies, critical infrastructure, workforce assessment and training, local business expansion, resource utilization, financial considerations, and LNG export trends.
In his role with MCOR, Tom provides leadership to a range of Penn State's related Marcellus research activities and events. Mr. Murphy is a graduate of Penn State.