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Environment & Energy

US Energy Secretary Hears from Pittsburgh on Natural Gas Future

Deanna Garcia
90.5 WESA

As part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the U.S. Department of Energy is holding meetings across the country on infrastructure needs for the natural gas industry.

On Monday the, the seventh such meeting, the Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) Public Meeting, was held in Pittsburgh. The day-long meeting focused on key infrastructure needed for transmission, storage and distribution of energy – especially natural gas, which continues boom, especially in this region.

“The Marcellus, in terms of dry gas so-called, has gone from like 2 to roughly 20 percent of the nation’s natural gas in a period of like seven years,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “This is unprecedented really in this kind of a business.”

That boom has presented challenges, including transmission, which has affected pricing in different parts of the state, how to process it and how to store it.

“The major areas that we need natural gas, in particular is for exports, manufacturing, thermal electricity and energy production and transportation,” said Congressman Tim Murphy, who also attended the QER.

Murphy said exports will be key because the U.S. used about 25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in 2012. There are about 3,850 cubic feet altogether available right now.

“Pennsylvania’s now the second-largest natural gas producer,” Murphy said. “Shale gas is 25 percent of domestic production. A decade ago it was only one percent of this. In the next two years, Marcellus will supply almost one-fifth of the country’s gas supply.”

And that’s not just dry natural gas. Secretary Moniz said there is also an enormous amount of natural gas liquids production.

“Propane, butane, ethane, other anes,” said Moniz. “These are tremendously important to the economic equation, they are tremendously important as feed stock to industry, they are tremendously important for heating many parts of our country, our homes are heated with propane for example.”

Plus, Moniz said the natural gas industry has created a manufacturing renaissance in the U.S.

“The numbers are a bit hard to pin down,” he said, “but we could see as much as $200 billion invested in new manufacturing capacity pretty much directly because of the shale gas revolution – it’s enormous.”

But, Moniz stressed the need to develop natural gas in a way that protects the environment. Murphy said that while it’s been beneficial, natural gas cannot replace nuclear or coal, and added that the U.S. should continue to develop cleaner coal technologies.

The QER meetings are fact-finding and public comment-gathering events. There will be a total of 15 throughout the country, the next is in North Dakota.