Report: Natural Gas Has Potential to Save Lives

Sep 01, 2016

Researchers examined Turkey, indicate similar benefits in the United States

A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research lead by researchers from American University reports that expanded use of natural gas can save lives. The study looks at the impact of providing more natural gas service in a developing country; in this case – Turkey. The authors also indicated that similar quality of life enhancements can be found in the United States as more natural gas is used in place of coal for power generation.

NBER QuoteThe researchers reported that: “the expansion of natural gas services has caused significant reductions in both the adult and the elderly mortality rates…the expansion of natural gas networks has indeed led to a significant improvement in air quality.”

The author recently said in an interview on how the results could translate to the United States: “we believe that our study provides credible evidence to demonstrate that widespread replacement of coal by natural gas as the primary source of fuel could improve public health…”

Here are some of the other observations from the study:

  • The average carbon intensity of the energy supply has started to decline because CO2 emissions from the combustion of natural gas are about half those from burning coal. Natural gas also produces much “lower emissions of nearly all types of pollutants.”
  • The potential for natural gas to reduce CO2 reduce and air pollution is “a promising prospect for the developing countries.”
  • The data suggests “approximately 0.073 lives are saved per every 1,000 persons in response to a one percentage-point increase in the intensity of natural gas.” This “translate[s] into a total of 846 lives saved among non-elderly adults and 3,851 lives saved among the elderly” Turkish population.
  • The “results highlight the health benefits of a nationwide transition towards a type of fuel that is gaining popularity due to its abundance, relatively lower cost, and higher efficiency…the availability of large reserves of natural gas coupled with technological innovations in extraction and transmission in recent years has the potential to cause a real improvement in air quality and...public health.”

Similar results have been observed by regulatory agencies in the United States. In fact, EPA data for Pennsylvania shows declining air emissions and improved air quality since Marcellus Shale gas availability has made it possible to produce ever more electricity in the Commonwealth using this clean fuel. Here, for example, is what’s happened with Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) emissions.



It’s no coincidence SO2 emissions dropped dramatically in Pennsylvania with the shale revolution – as more and more natural gas power plants are being brought online and replacing older coal facilities. 

Washington County sulfur oxide emissions, in fact, dropped by 93% after the Mitchell Power Plant closed and that generating capacity was replaced with new natural gas power plants that produce almost no such emissions. 

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