Coverage of Carnegie Mellon Study Omits Clean-Air Facts

Over the weekend, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published an article detailing a Carnegie Mellon University study that claims to have calculated cumulative environmental and employment impacts of the shale revolution that has positively transformed Pennsylvania and surrounding states in the Marcellus and Utica Shale basins.
The research focuses on finding negative consequences; however, numerous studies – including a state Department of Environmental Protection report covered by the Post-Gazette last summer – have found an abundance of environmental, economic, and public health benefits that are attributed to natural gas development. Here are just a few examples of the science and data that contradict this latest attempt to detract attention to these benefits:
  • Energy Information Administration data released last month found 2,823 million metric tons in U.S. CO2 emissions reductions are credited to the shift in natural gas usage for power generation.
  • Environmental Protection Agency data indicated U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are at the lowest levels since the 1990s despite rapid increase in oil and natural gas production. 
  • National Bureau of Economic Research this year calculated shale gas development avoids approximately 11,000 deaths per year in the United States thanks to lower energy prices.
  • Pennsylvania & Colorado Departments of Health found most of the studies linking shale development to public health implications had “conflicting evidence (mixed), insufficient evidence, or in some cases, a lack of evidence of the possibility for harmful health effects.” 
“We were already well on our way in large part – and have actually since met what were proposed [Clean Power Plan] goals – primarily because of the shift toward cleaner natural gas.” We’ve seen improvements on ozone, we’ve seen improvements in those asthma precursors, those VOCs and nitrogen oxides.”
  • A two-year study conducted by an independent environmental and risk sciences organization found natural gas operations near a southwestern Pennsylvania school district “showed no air quality impacts of potential health concern”
The Post-Gazette, which frequently publishes articles with dubious claims about the oil and natural gas industry’s regional impacts, even noted that the Carnegie Mellon “study’s scope is limited” and does not accurately reflect the life-saving air quality benefits of switching to natural gas for power generation, and the role that plays in avoiding the premature deaths the report seeks to gauge. Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that these calculated “premature deaths” are virtual calculations, and do not represent actual mortalities.
It’s also critical to note that one of the study’s authors – former Carnegie Mellon President Jared Cohon – is a board member of the Heinz Endowments, which is a frequent and generous donor to anti-natural gas advocacy groups. That foundation’s agenda-driven activism has been detailed by EID.
While scientists, health experts, the industry and policy makers work vigorously to ensure natural gas development is safe and well-regulated, studies like this – and coverage of them by outlets such as the Post-Gazette – serve only to feed a false narrative that we must choose between a healthy environment and economic growth. American natural gas and oil production has shown repeatedly we can – and do – have both.

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