Affordable Natural Gas and Bettering Low-Income Americans’ Lives
Posted May 29, 2019
The headline of the opinion piece in the Orange County Register caught my eye – and should get the attention of everyone in this country:
“Fracking saves low-income Americans’ lives”
The article is based on research published earlier this year, which calculated that lower heating costs associated with surging domestic natural gas production averted 11,000 winter deaths in the U.S. each winter from 2005 to 2010.
Read on for details, but this research makes the critically important connection between abundant energy and Americans’ well-being.
And, considered another way: While a lot of taxpayer dollars are spent to help make life better for less-advantaged Americans, energy produced right here at home has had significant positive impact on the quality of life for many of our fellow citizens.
We regularly write about access to abundant, affordable energy as the basis for economic growth, increased U.S. security and many other things.
No less important, underscored in this research, is that energy factors big in Americans’ quality of life and for many is a life-and-death issue. This certainly affects the way we look at issues surrounding the development of our domestic energy reserves and America’s future energy mix.
The researchers – two from Northwestern University and a third from Monash University in Australia – noted that increased natural gas production, made possible by advanced hydraulic fracturing and modern horizontal drilling, helped drive down energy prices, allowing Americans to affordably heat their homes without affecting their spending for other needs, such as food and health care. From the paper:
Exposure to cold is one reason that mortality peaks in winter, and a higher heating price increases exposure to cold by reducing heating use. It also raises energy bills, which could affect health by decreasing other health-promoting spending. … We find that a lower heating price reduces winter mortality, driven mostly by cardiovascular and respiratory causes.
Charts from the paper show the share of U.S. households using natural gas for heat (can’t help but notice the low percentages in New England):
And the study’s finding that there was a steep decline in the price of natural gas between 2005 to 2010:
Here’s one correlating monthly temperature data and mortality:
[U]sing less heating means exposure to lower ambient temperature, which has been linked to cardiovascular, respiratory, and other health problems. Second, if families do not cut back usage one-for-one when the price rises, their energy bills will increase. This can lead to cutbacks in other expenditures that affect health, such as food and health care.
We find that lower heating prices reduce mortality in winter months. The estimated effect size implies that the drop in natural gas prices in the late 2000s, induced largely by the boom in shale gas production, averted 11,000 winter deaths per year in the US. We also find that the effect does not just represent short-run hastening of mortality. We show that the effect, which is driven mostly by cardiovascular and respiratory causes, is robust to several checks on the specification.
Ron Williamson of the Great Plains Public Policy Institute, the author of the op-ed, writes:
A staggering share of the U.S. population lives on the edge. Forty million Americans are unsure whether they’ll have enough money to buy food. As many as 40 percent of older adults sometimes fail to adhere to their prescription regimens due to cost concerns. Even relatively minor changes in heating costs can dramatically affect these Americans’ health. … Fortunately for these low-income households, energy companies began perfecting hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” in the 2000s.
Thanks, natural gas. Thanks, fracking.
About The Author
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Previously, Mark was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor at an assortment of newspapers. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela have two grown children and six grandchildren.