Natural Gas Development and Human Health in PA: Let’s Get the Facts Straight

By Nick Deiuliis

Poor policy favors superficial optics and follows manufactured storylines. Sound policy aims for substantive improvement and values rational decisions based on objective data. ​

Today a poor policy path is being promoted to harm a life-sustaining industry, manipulating concerns for human health as a convenient tool. It’s happening in Pennsylvania with its natural gas industry and local communities. ​

A ground game is churning that fabricates a storyline of the natural gas industry hurting residents: causing asthma, causing childhood cancers, and adversely impacting newborns. Making and broadcasting disgusting and baseless accusations to vilify and take down a noble and societally crucial endeavor, and in the process hurting the very region and communities the opportunists claim to work in the interests of.

This past August, the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) released the results of its studies on public health impacts from natural gas development in southwestern Pennsylvania. The studies left much to be desired; they suffered from fatal design flaws, many of them self-inflicted.

Yet the studies failed to find causation that would link natural gas development to health problems. The biggest ‘bombshell’ findings were a pair of very weak (and in one case, nonsensical) associations of natural gas development and two discrete health issues. No smoking guns identified.

But the rollout, presentation, and subsequent reporting of the findings (or lack thereof) were staged to garner maximum speculation, innuendo, and debasing of the natural gas industry. An all-too-common occurrence in media and academia today.

Mountain of Evidence Prior to the Pitt Studies

Over the years prior to the recent Pitt studies, substantial research has been conducted by numerous organizations on the impacts of natural gas development on public health. ​ The studies yielded disappointing results for those hoping to link shale development with human health risks: the expected risks have not materialized while efforts to find clear causation of natural gas development on health risks have come up short.

Consider the massive body of scientific work and measurement performed on point prior to this summer.

In the then-largest study of its kind, a 2015 Yale-led investigation found no evidence that trace contamination of organic compounds in drinking water wells near Marcellus shale development in northeastern Pennsylvania came from deep hydraulic fracturing shale horizons, underground storage tanks, well casing failures, or surface waste containment ponds.

The Yale study was followed by a Duke-led effort in 2017 to assess the impacts of natural gas development on groundwater in northern West Virginia. The Duke study concluded that there was a clear indication for the lack of groundwater contamination and subsurface impact from shale-drilling and hydraulic fracturing. And that trace metals associated with potential health impacts also showed no correlation with proximity to shale gas activities. ​

In 2018 the University of Cincinnati assessed the risk of methane making its way into groundwater in the Utica shale region of Ohio. The study found no relationship between methane concentration or source in groundwater and proximity to active gas well sites. ​ The study did, however, show a decrease in methane concentration in some regularly monitored wells during the study period. And that pH and conductivity did not change as shale gas drilling increased, nor with distance to the nearest shale gas well. Data did not indicate intrusion of frac fluids. ​ ​ ​

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Department of Health (DOH) were also busy in 2018, conducting studies and issuing reports that concluded Marcellus shale emissions did not exceed National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) limits and that the emissions are not expected to be harmful to healthy citizens. Estimated additional lifetime cancer risks were found to be very low from exposures to chemicals near natural gas activity (average levels of carcinogenic chemicals detected were generally similar to levels typically seen in ambient air in mixed urban, suburban, and rural areas across the US). And significantly fewer Air Quality Index (AQI) days worse than “Good” were measured at a monitoring site near natural gas facilities versus local comparison sites.

Penn State performed a 2018 study of groundwater in rural regions of Pennsylvania (Bradford County) where natural gas development is present. The study found only rare instances of possible gas contamination amid an overall trend of improving water quality despite heavy Marcellus shale development. The Penn State researchers saw possible contamination by natural gas in only 0.5% of the nearly 1,400 shale wells studied in heavily drilled Bradford County. The remaining water chemistry data highlighted that groundwater either improved or remained level from samples taken prior to the 1990s.

“The most interesting thing we discovered was the groundwater chemistry in one of the areas most heavily developed for shale gas – an area with 1400 new gas wells – does not appear to be getting worse with time, and may even be getting better,” said the director of Penn State’s Earth and Environmental Systems Institute.

2023 Pitt Studies Findings

The recent Pitt studies, spanning years and millions of dollars in expenditures, showed no ‘causation’ and a limited, highly questionable pair of ‘associations’ between natural gas development and two specific health issues. ​

In statistics, it is important to differentiate between ‘association’ and ‘causation.’ Two variables may be associated without a causal relationship. For example, there is a statistical association between the number of people who drowned by falling into a pool and the number of films Nicholas Cage appeared in for a given year (they indeed do show an association when tracked over a specific period of time). However, there is obviously no causal relationship.

Causation, on the other hand, means that the exposure produces the effect.

The Pitt studies found no causation from unconventional shale development to any of the health risks studied. Rather, researchers stretched to find two associations using skewed measurements, atypical definitions, and not attempting to account for key environmental and other factors that have proven demonstrable impacts on health.

The studies relied on a very limited proximity metric which doesn’t identify any exposure pathways, assumes constant emissions, and ignores critical factors like weather, work, air dispersion, lifestyle choices and known existing hazards. In addition, the studies assumed all natural gas wells “are created equal.”

Despite these flaws and limitations, the researchers acknowledged, “No evidence was found to support an association between exposures to [natural gas] activities and other environmental factors and the risk of leukemia, [central nervous system] tumors, and malignant bone tumors, including [Ewing’s Family of Tumors].” An extremely low lymphoma association correlation was found, underscoring the limited methodologies employed.

Asthma exacerbations were not linked with proximity to wells in pad preparation, drilling or hydraulic fracturing phases, regardless of how close wells were to homes or the number of wells nearby. Curiously, the only association claimed was to the natural gas production phase, when little to no activity occurs on the pad and emissions are minimal.

Ironically, Pitt’s own data on asthma in western Pennsylvania show a 50% decline of severe asthma cases between 2014 and 2020, even as natural gas production in the study region increased by over 200%. And across the study period, air quality in the Western Pennsylvania region has generally improved, with PM2.5 particulate matter, an asthma trigger, declining in the eight-county study area to well below NAAQS (EPA). Reviewing the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s “Most Challenging Places to Live with Asthma” informs that no region (including Pittsburgh) with natural gas development falls in the top 20, but Philadelphia, Allentown, and Harrisburg each do.

The Pitt study found birthweights for mothers living close to natural gas facilities remain in the normal healthy range, and no association to other adverse birth outcomes. The average birthweight was within the national average of 2400-4000 grams, and the greatest reduction in birthweight associated with natural gas well exposure was only 0.8% below the average, still well within healthy ranges. The researchers pointed out this “poses little health risks.” Interestingly, the odds of preterm birth were higher for those living with no natural gas activity near the mother’s residence during pregnancy.

Fatal Flaws of the Pitt Studies

The Pitt studies suffer from fundamental limitations in design and methods that, coupled with how the findings were presented to the public, raised anxiety unwarranted by actual data. ​

Researchers never visited shale gas sites, refused opportunities to do so, didn’t take air or water samples, or generate any new, original data or measurements. Statistical speculation trumped actual measurement.

If the researchers had spent time in the field, they would have seen how natural gas development is safe, well-regulated, and produced here better than anywhere else in the world.

In addition, the researchers relied solely upon statistical models and static locational information. They ignored key influential factors like actual emissions, wind, air dispersion, weather patterns, not to mention other potential environmental sources of exposure or outdoor hazards.

In a Question-and-Answer document regarding the research studies, the Pennsylvania DOH cautioned: “Establishing cause-effect relationship in environmental studies is very difficult. In many cases, it is also not generally feasible to be able to gather information on or understand all the possible factors that may impact health such as genetics, other exposures over a lifetime and lifestyle factors that may impact the health outcome in question.”

Consider the finding of association of natural gas development to lymphoma (0.006%-0.0084% association between diagnosis and well location) and no association with other cancers, including Ewing Sarcoma. The researchers primarily relied on the relation of the disease and how close sufferers lived to a fracking facility. Because data was limited to information found on birth certificates, the studies wrongfully assumed people lived at the same address for up to 29 years, while ignoring daily travel to locations like schools and workplaces. Such an approach would be laughable if it were not for the serious issues at hand.

The researchers admit the cancer study did not adequately account for variables the American Cancer Society lists as common lymphoma causes. These include genetic predisposition, infection, and exposure to radiation (such as the Canonsburg, Pennsylvania uranium waste facility where government monitoring has shown higher radiation levels).

The asthma assessment suffered from similar methodology flaws, failing to account for known asthma triggers including indoor and outdoor air pollutants, and refusing to present this data to the public. Nor did Pitt researchers explain why they labeled all asthma exacerbation cases as “severe” when the standard in medical studies is to categorize asthma exacerbation cases as mild, moderate, and severe. Without explanation, researchers broke these medical research norms. ​

The asthma data were limited to information found in medical records. Meaning that while smoking status was accounted for, a child’s exposure to secondhand smoke was not. Other known asthma triggers that were ignored, as identified by the CDC, include indoor and outdoor air pollutants, dust mites, mold, and pests. This leaves a huge gap in the potential other external factors that are known to trigger and exacerbate asthma.

Conflicts and Bias

Fundamental to the credibility of research is that researchers are, in fact, independent and unbiased.

One of the lead researchers for these studies publicly advocated for increasing mandatory setbacks from shale gas activities during a 2021 public forum. Unfortunately, the researcher drew conclusions well before finalizing these studies and chose to advocate for a public policy that is being pushed by anti-energy activists seeking to ban natural gas development.

Consider the money trail to assess who benefits from the baseless speculation that ensues. Little if any new, empirical research was conducted in the studies. Of the $2.584 million in taxpayer funds spent on these studies, $1.5 million went to pay salaries and benefits of the researchers, while another $932,000 went for various, unspecified administrative fees. ​

A concerning lack of transparency stokes more concern about how the study was performed. The researchers failed to adhere to the provisions of the taxpayer-funded contract, which required it to conduct a public forum on at least an annual basis to advise on the status of the ongoing studies and, by extension, gain valuable input from all stakeholders affected by the studies (“On at least an annual basis, the Principal Investigator(s) and study team shall present study progress to date in a public forum in conjunction with the Department.” Section E.2.B (Work Plan) of Attachment 1; Contract number 4400018535). Despite claiming that it would “welcome open and collaborative conversations with the board (External Advisory Board) when we have data to share,” it appears that no open or collaborative conversations were held with the External Advisory Board or interested public stakeholders.

The studies considered proximity to only one potential exposure, unconventional natural gas wells, rather than taking a holistic approach of examining whether other activities or exposures may have contributed to adverse health impacts. For example, the study region hosts two uranium disposal sites which have been demonstrated to have uranium concentrations in groundwater that are 22x higher than the EPA’s maximum concentration limits. Additionally, pesticide exposure has been linked to the development of some cancers, leading credible researchers to examine the presence of treated croplands in proximity to incidents of cancer. Yet, the cancer study did not adequately factor in these or other potential exposures, as well as personal genetic or lifestyle factors that may influence health outcomes.

With respect to asthma, the Pitt researchers excluded residents of the city of Pittsburgh from their study population even though Pittsburgh is within the study region and many of its residents live in proximity to shale gas wells. No rational reason is offered for excluding Pittsburgh residents. But well-established research has shown that the rate of asthma in urban areas is meaningfully higher than the rate in rural settings. By removing Pittsburgh’s population from the study group, including a control population that would be expected to have statistically higher asthma rates, the study skews the findings by failing to draw from the control population in a consistent manner across the study region.

How the Process Works

One must understand the process used in the Pitt studies (and many others like it from across the country) to judge the findings objectively. The reactions of various parties upon the release of the studies provide a window into how this type of research has been co-opted to fulfill predetermined views of the natural gas industry by those opposed to it. ​ The intent is to build a process that functions as a positive feedback loop, with each subsequent link reinforcing the pre-desired outcome or view.

The studies used two primary datasets. First, the researchers access medical information of patients with maladies of concern, in this case childhood cancers, asthma, and birth outcomes. In these medical datasets, a home address is associated with the patient.

Second, researchers use locations of natural gas wells, and dates when they were drilled, hydraulically fractured, and producing. ​

The researchers then determine the strength of the statistical relationship between the home address of the patient and the distance to a well pad (or other natural gas infrastructure of interest such as a compression station).

It’s a simple approach bordering on useless. It will fail to deliver any meaningful insight or solid conclusions beyond innuendo and rank speculation.

That’s why this methodology creates the need to use squishy descriptors such as ‘links’, ‘ties’, and ‘associations,’ but can’t be used to determine basic cause and effect. ​

The study authors say they welcome additional data and research. Yet regulatory agencies conduct extensive studies on actual air quality, radiation, and many other compounds of potential concern from industrial operations, including natural gas development. Environmental, health, and safety professionals at energy companies collect and analyze data regularly to protect their workforce, contractors, host communities and the environment. These extensive datasets are consciously ignored by those predisposed to creating worst-case speculative scenarios.

By design, the public sees only the alarmist headlines.

The reactions to these much-anticipated studies were telling. Some reactions were theatrical and prepared ahead of time (mostly journalists and environmental group bureaucrats with self-serving agendas) while others were raw with emotion emanating from genuine anguish (parents experiencing personal loss and tragedy). All the reactions were carefully commandeered by opportunists to nurture that positive feedback loop.

Constrained by the flaws of the study design, it was impossible to answer the questions of concerned residents, who came away empty-handed without the being told what is causing illnesses. ​

The researchers offered that “this was only the beginning” and “the first step,” both of which are code for justifying millions of dollars in additional expenditures to feed a machine dependent on fear and anxiety.

Media plays a collaborative role in manufacturing the emotion and bias. The news reports were what one commentator notably described as “overwhelmingly sloppy” with headlines, promoting outcomes that weren’t explicit in the studies.1 Many outlets conveyed conclusions not made in the studies, which is unethical, bordering on legally actionable. ​

Consider the following headlines appearing after the town hall presentation:

  • “Study: Asthma severity, rare childhood cancer likelier near gas wells”
  • “Research suggests link between fracking, rare childhood cancers”
  • “A Pennsylvania study suggests links between fracking and asthma, lymphoma in children”
  • “’Is it safe to live here?’: Questions loom at presentation of reports on fracking and health in southwestern Pa.”
  • “Fracking is making Pennsylvanians sick. Lawmakers must act.”

Most headline readers come away with conclusions that the studies did not conclude. Which is the objective of the journalists writing the headlines. Yet compare those headlines to what the studies and researchers stated:

  • “The researchers were unable to say whether the drilling caused the health problems, because the studies weren’t designed to do that.”
  • “But the researchers said they found no association between gas drilling and childhood leukemia, brain and bone cancers.”
  • “Limited evidence existed for a tie between gas extraction and central nervous system tumors.”
  • “But no relationship was found between fracking and leukemia. Similarly, results did not show a link between rare bone cancer and shale gas development that was statistically significant.”
  • “The studies used a retrospective model, which looks back in time at participants’ health instead of tracking patients in real time.”
  • “If you are just looking at the studies and trying to demonstrate some kind of causation, and trying to say that this is the end-all-be-all of the situation, that is not what these studies are designed to do.”

Welcome to modern-day mainstream media, now devoid of ethical standards, in the fields of domestic energy and environment. No wonder that Gallup found only 18% of Americans today have “a great deal or quite a lot of confidence” in newspapers. ​

(1) My personal observation was that the media reporting was “calculatingly curated.”

Venice: A City Connected by Canals…and Carbon

Venice is perhaps the world’s most famous island city, cut off from the mainland. Visitors arriving by plane do not land in Venice proper when disembarking at Marco Polo Airport. Instead, they land across the lagoon and must take a water taxi to get to their destination.

That is where on a recent visit we met a water taxi stand manager who struck up a conversation. The inevitable commentary about weather came up; we were lucky to have the prospect of an awesome summer forecast for the next few days.

The manager commented that climate change was altering the weather and ravaging the city. I asked how she thought Marco Polo managed climate change when he left town and traveled the world on behalf of the Republic of Venice. Her response summed up today’s ideological brainwashing of society by environmentalism: “climate change didn’t exist back then.”

The manager pointed out how Venetians have become quite sustainable when it comes to their carbon footprint. She informed me the city reached its peak carbon footprint not long ago and is on the road to zero carbon.[1] Events in the city increasingly tout how they are net-zero carbon confabs.[2] She suggested we might be visiting the planet’s lowest-carbon-footprint major city.

That got my immediate attention.

I decided while waiting for the water taxi that it was game on for our few days in town. While taking in the sights, people, and food I would also be tallying an unofficial carbon footprint audit of this most unique of cities.

As we said goodbye to the water taxi manager, she asked what we did for a living. My response was half-joke, half-serious and made her laugh: “I work in an industry you’ve been told is part of the problem. But the reality is that without my industry, Venice as you know it would cease to exist.” What I respectfully left out of my response was that the manager’s job, tied directly to tourism and carbon utilization, would also cease to exist.

If You’ve Never Been…

A little background for those who have not had the pleasure of visiting Venice (highly recommended, subject to the advice that follows). The place offers an intensely deep history; but today Venice has become a museum to itself. Everything in the town revolves around tourism and the past.

I heard the horror stories from seasoned travelers. About how crowded the city gets in summer, when a plague of tourists descends off cruise ships and planes to assault the city’s famous sites, as if the visitors were spearheading an amphibious invasion. To some extent that proved accurate, especially at and around the postcard sites of Ponte Rialto and Piazza San Marco. Tourists jam both locations, paying more attention to their smart devices to capture what was around them instead of taking in what was around them.

But there is a fabulously attractive aspect of Venice: walking a hundred yards from the most packed of sites transports you to a quiet, less populated, and unique area. A traveler can go from part of the hordes, to alone with only a few resident Venetians around in less than thirty seconds. And 90% of the city lends itself to the latter vibe, meaning if you invest an hour or so hitting the popular locations, you are then free to wander and immerse in the real Venice (or what is left of it).

I mentioned walking. That is the exclusive travel method once within the city. There are no cars in Venice. Or buses or trucks or motorcycles. Which means there are no streetlights or stop signs. Bikes, scooters, and skateboards are forbidden and, frankly, useless. The only mode of transportation other than feet are gondolas and small motorized water taxis and delivery boats. Which means the pedestrian reigns supreme. One only needs to navigate other pedestrians and the city’s hundreds of footbridges across canals when meandering about.

I mentioned meandering. That is the most accurate description of how one navigates through Venice.

There seems to be an infinite number of ways to go from point A to point B in the city. Which makes every walk an adventure and something new. Maps are nearly useless because of the countless alleys, foot bridges, and canals. One learns early that you iterate a path to the final destination through trial and error. It is not uncommon to turn a corner and see your destination close by but get lost as you turn corners trying to maneuver a path to where you’re headed. It might sound frustrating but does make for great fun.

So, at first blush, Venice appears to have one of the lowest carbon footprints of a major city on the planet. No cars and everyone walking or rowing on water. No wonder Venice and Venetians tend to brag about their sustainability credentials.

But a closer look exposes a different reality.

The Carbon of Venice

Venice is awash in two things: water and carbon utilization. The former is obvious while the latter becomes obvious after reflecting how this city attracts and supports tens of millions of people each year.

Feeding Venice consumes massive amounts of carbon.

It doesn’t hit you at first, but after a few days you realize that all the food and drink being consumed across the city in the thousands of bars and bistros is coming from somewhere off the islands. Agriculture is far from carbon free, with fertilizers and machinery utilizing copious amounts of fossil fuels. Packaging adds to the carbon tally. And the transportation of the food requires diesel and gasoline, whether the mode of transport is truck, boat, train, or plane. If Venice required a zero-carbon footprint for its food, the population would necessarily shrink drastically. And the diet would be severely pared back.

Which brings up the subject of the ‘residents’ of Venice.

In the summer, the population is heavily supplemented by tourists.[3] Those travelers got there by plane, train, boat, bus, and auto. All those modes of transport consume carbon-based fuels for power (and their manufacture). Perhaps travelers went carbon-free for transport once inside the Venetian walls, but the journey to get there and return home was hugely carbon intensive.

Venice worked hard to retain its cultural identity, including the preservation of its architecture. The orange terra cotta tiled roofs make for picturesque sight lines, bringing tourism and economic commerce into the city. Solar panels on historic roofs don’t exactly make for nice photos or appealing vistas. Thus, you don’t see solar panels on Venetian roofs despite a somewhat sunny climate and a more than accommodating regulatory regime with EU energy policy. That means much of the air conditioning, electricity, and heat will be derived from carbon-based power generation, whether it be in Venice or supplied from the Italian mainland.

Locals and tourists walk about the city wearing shoes and clothes derived from petroleum-based polymers and fabrics. Everyone drinking from water bottles and snapping photos from smart devices, with both being made from carbon. And the former being chilled and the latter being charged with carbon. The masses across Venice literally wear and hold their carbon footprints on their feet, backs, and hands.

Carbon is present and necessary for the most famous of Venetian products. Murano glass utilizes a process that is quite carbon intensive. Venetian masks, from the paper mache variety, to the paints and pigments that decorate them, require carbon as an input or feedstock. Whether a tourist buys a cheap knockoff, or the finest handmade versions, they are taking home a souvenir that carries a carbon footprint.

The Venetian Experience Relies on Carbon

The kid in The Sixth Sense memorably remarked that he ‘saw dead people.’ Spending a few days visiting Venice had me seeing carbon. Everywhere and with everyone.

Carbon remains the lifeblood of this city with the historic past that today primarily exists as a window to the past. Venice is not on a road to zero carbon emissions unless its leaders seek urban suicide. For Venice to continue to be a global tourist destination, it will likely have more attributable carbon emissions, not less.

Mandate arrivederci to carbon utilization, and the consequences for Venice and its economy will sadly be dire. As well as for its residents and those wishing to visit.

Again, if you have the opportunity to visit Venice, definitely go for the rich history, culture, and one-of-a-kind experience. Just say “no grazie” to the zero carbon claims.

[1] Similar flawed thinking can be found everywhere. Give a read to Onu Ialia’s “Venice Is One of 30 of the World’s Largest and Most Influential Cities to Have Peaked Greenhouse Gas Emissions” to see how baseless, yet feel-good, pronouncements reinforce a false premise.
[2] For a recent example: “Venice Biennale 2022 Gets Eco Accolade, Winning Carbon Neutrality Status” (James Imam, The Art Newspaper, 12/30/22). Unfortunately, as this essay will detail, a legitimate carbon accounting betrays a carbon footprint for any such event as being quite positive.
[3] The numbers don’t lie: historic central Venice has just over 50,000 permanent residents but attracts over 20 million visitors each year.


LA County Lincoln Club • June 2023 Address

The following is a summary of Nick’s June 2, 2023, address to the Los Angeles County Lincoln Club – Downtown Chapter.

I am so happy to be here, to be with so many doers and value creators. I typically decline many of these invitations to speak and interact. It’s much more comfortable for me to write commentary on my website or discuss issues on my weekly Far Middle podcast than to take the much bolder step of interacting with fellow human beings.

And I have a day job running a publicly traded energy company, CNX Resources, with a great team who are always demanding that I focus on the next summit to climb.

But when I first connected with Nish, I didn’t hesitate for a moment; I was all in. Let me tell you why.

Since you here today are from California or the LA area, you may miss something crucial about California and the position it holds within our nation. My family, like Nish’s and most of yours depending on how far you go back, were not from America. Our people came to America. More specifically, our people aspired to come to America. Because of what it represented and offered, which was in stark contrast to the places where our people left. People from all over the world dreamt of…coming to America, to steal the title of a great 80s movie.

But within this great nation sits California. You see, people from all over America dreamt of…going to California, to borrow the title of a great Led Zeppelin song. California for decades was the dream within the dream. The next level of the American ideal.

I had that dream but never realized it. Since I was a kid. My favorite TV shows were centered in California, hello CHIPs. The first movie I ever saw in a theater was Earthquake, where my perceived ideal of a place was devastated by a natural disaster.

A self-respecting Pittsburgher, I was a Pirates fan growing up in the early 1980s. But I was also a massive Dodgers fan. I fell in love with Vin’s voice and the stadium. That crisp white uniform in the sun. Lasorda, Garvey, Dusty, and my personal favorite, third baseman Ron Cey. The Dodgers perfectly mirrored my image of California and LA.

One of life’s great mysteries to me are people, many of them smart people mind you, who say they prefer New York City to LA. What? That’s not even a fair comparison. People…escape from New York; yeah, another 80s movie title again; they don’t desire to go live there, certainly not over LA.

Although I never left Pittsburgh, I remain fond of California and LA. And I am deeply troubled about both. And America. And my hometown as well. Allow me to explain.


Understand my makeup. Like most of us here today, I am a mosaic of things.

I am an engineer by training, which means I am passionate about the scientific method and objectivity when setting policies. I am not a fan of, and am deeply troubled by, ‘The Science’.

I am a liberal, as in the endangered species of classic liberal, when it comes to individual rights. The Constitution and our republic were structured to protect the rights of the individual. From the tyranny of the majority and certainly from the state. The individual should be free to choose.

I am most definitely a fiscal conservative. I never spent more cash than I took in, including when I was young, starting out with basically nothing, and no car. So why should our government systemically and constantly grossly outspend what it takes in?

And philosophically, I am best defined as libertarian. I recognize we need some level of government – to protect property rights, protect individual rights, and to defend from outside threats. But that level should be minimal so that the individual is optimal.

And I am a proud capitalist. And an unapologetic domestic energy producer of natural gas. And a believer in meritocracy. And free market advocate.

What’s interesting is how out of style that mosaic makeup I just listed has become. In fact, it is now beyond unpopular with the elite and expert class. It is outright vilified as something in need of silencing and eradicating.

Think about it. The Science reigns over science. Individual rights are trampled by the official views set by the elite and expert classes. Fiscal responsibility in government has been obliterated and we pretend the bill will never come due. Government has become a monster, light years away from minimal. Socialism eats away at capitalism. Zero carbon myths are used to attack domestic energy. And equal outcomes destroy meritocracy.

Why are all these things coming to bear at the same time across our great land and this awesome state? It boils down to one culprit, friends: the Left.


Learn how CNX Resources produces natural gas.

If you could create the opposite composite of the things that I love, that I associate with, that I just listed, you would come up with today’s Left.

And not only is the Left the antithesis of all that I hold near and dear, but it also—quite astutely I might add when one considers the Left’s end game—attacks and vilifies the industry and region that are in my DNA. Those being the domestic natural gas industry and Appalachia, with Pittsburgh serving as its beating heart.

And there is much that we all stand to lose if the Left succeeds. Allow me to illustrate with my world, which seems far from here but in fact impacts everything here in Cali. It’s the greatest success story never told.

The U.S. went from being a net annual importer of natural gas as recently as 2016 to the largest global producer of natural gas and a net annual exporter today. The Appalachian basin is a big reason why; the Marcellus and Utica shale horizons underneath where I live represent cumulatively the second largest natural gas field in the world.

What catalyzed this stunning rapid transformation and dominant position? The free market bringing innovative and disruptive technology in the form of horizontal drilling and advanced completions techniques. American ingenuity allowed methane, aka natural gas, to be liberated from shale rock deposits at prolific rates and low cost.

Cumulatively, the benefits across this virtuous value chain total in the trillions of dollars. Because of capitalism and efficient market theory.

You see these benefits locally in places where the manufacturing of energy occurs, often in rural and underserved locales. Landowners have enjoyed a windfall from gas rights leasing that they’ve reinvested into family farms, homes, kids’ education, and local businesses. Communities ravaged by global “free”, but really unfair, trade now see high employment in jobs that pay family-sustaining wages. Where no hope existed not long ago for these communities, attention has now turned to a future with promise.

You see the benefits regionally. Pennsylvania retooled its power grid to feed off domestic natural gas and the state’s carbon dioxide intensity declined nearly 40 percent in just 12 years while its manufacturing sector was revived and businesses and homes enjoy lower energy bills. Old-line manufacturing, petrochemicals, and industrial products are resurrected across the Rust Belt by the jolt of cheap and reliable energy. Which means the building trades are booked solid.

Benefits are evident across America and North America. Canadian heavy industry in western Ontario is now fed by new pipeline infrastructure conveying Appalachian carbon-based molecules, making it more competitive. Mexico is the largest importer of U.S. natural gas.

The US shale industry and free market have done more for North American prosperity than the NAFTA and USMCA, combined.

America’s domestic energy industry is redrawing the geopolitical map.

We broke OPEC’s back. Domestic carbon manufacturing allows the U.S. to withdraw from endless conflicts in faraway lands since we now deliver our own energy security. U.S. natural gas is the biggest strategic lever against the growing threat of the ominous Chinese communist state and its global ambitions, as well as Russia and Putin.

There are basic underlying reasons why this miracle occurred in a very short time.

First, the free market was able to function without major government intervention. The industry innovated faster than bureaucrats and the Left could keep up to meddle. Second, the free market allocated capital across the value chain, and what were once fragmented pieces quickly become integrated and efficient.

And if left unmolested by the Left, we are just getting started. Two big opportunities are on the horizon.

First, another round of disruptive and innovative technology is coming to bear, much of it being developed and demonstrated by CNX in Appalachia, that will allow natural gas manufactured at the wellhead to be efficiently transformed from gaseous methane into compressed natural gas and liquified natural gas. Or CNG and LNG, respectively. That’s a game changer, because CNG and LNG will instantly displace massive volumes of foreign-sourced oil used in the transportation sector.

When you blend in CNG or LNG into a truck, heavy equipment, bus, or airplane in place of gasoline or diesel, a few things happen. Costs go down because the natural gas derived BTUs are less than half the cost of gasoline or diesel BTUs. Huge savings.

Supply chains shrink drastically, from tens of thousands of miles with oil currently, down to as short as dozens of miles under this development chain.

Global CO2 and local emissions plummet, because you are now using the lowest methane intensive natural gas on the planet to displace higher emission pieces of the energy portfolio.

Employment and tax base go up as workers earn family-sustaining wages and pay taxes. Trade balance improves and trade deficit shrinks as energy imports drop. And our geopolitical leverage increases as we create not just improved energy security for ourselves, but also our allies.

Allowing doers to do their thing in domestic energy has the geopolitical reach of several aircraft carrier groups, when one thinks about it.

Second, once you displace the foreign-sourced gasoline and diesel transportation markets, you can start to expand the exporting ability of domestically produced natural gas to other nations.

Liquified natural gas (LNG) terminals along the east and gulf coasts, and what should also be the west coast, liquify natural gas transported from inland basins via pipelines. The product is then shipped to places like Poland, South Korea, Spain, Japan, and India. There, the natural gas is re-gasified and utilized for home heating, electricity generation, and manufacturing. Our carbon-based molecules are being utilized globally to help spur improved quality of life for billions of people.


But…the doers in domestic energy and Appalachia are not being left alone by the Left. Quite the contrary. It’s as if the success of the domestic energy industry drove the Left mad, to the point where their zealotry to destroy and appropriate the value of doers exponentially increased.

“It’s as if the success of the domestic energy industry drove the Left mad, to the point where their zealotry to destroy and appropriate the value of doers exponentially increased.”

Code Red for humanity and climate change serve as the overarching religion to destroy not just the domestic energy industry, but everything tied to it. Which is effectively the entire private sector economy and the freedom of the individual. There are three tactical prongs to the Left’s attack under the ideology of climate change.

The first prong of attack is heightened regulatory standards on domestic energy production and reduced access to natural gas reserves. You see this attack every time an administrative state bureaucrat in the EPA issues a new regulation on the industry. Although these attacks have a cumulative negative impact, the industry has become adept at meeting such onerous challenges.

The second prong of the attack targets the industry’s access to capital and looks to cut off supply of the vital lubricant for any capitalistic endeavor. This attack will be evident when major banks bow to pressure from environmental groups to stop lending to the carbon economy, when foundations or endowments of universities chest-thump about their divestment from carbon-producing companies, or when credit ratings firms assign poor credit ratings to such companies not because of quantitative metrics but instead because of subjective views of the industry’s social worthiness. The logic of this prong is simple: starve a growing industry of capital and you can slowly strangle it to death.

The third and final prong of the attack is the most insidious of all: thwarting the future demand growth for natural gas. This attack manifests through the throwing of regulatory and legal roadblocks into the paths of new pipeline projects that would convey natural gas from the producing basins to the growing demand centers.

The Left justifies the three-pronged attack with a few convenient energy myths.

The first myth being wind and solar and EVs are zero carbon. Nonsense; they have massive carbon and CO2 footprints on a life cycle basis, higher than natural gas power generation for sure. Mandating wind and solar power generation and EV adoption will increase atmospheric CO2 net-net, not decrease it.

The second myth being we can manufacture wind, solar, and EV batteries at scale here in the US. We can’t because the stuff you need sits largely in Africa and South America and China. And all the processing capacity to purify that stuff is controlled by China. A mad dash to wind, solar, and EVs necessarily creates energy dependency on the CCP, as designed.

And the murky supply chain of wind, solar, and batteries brings epic human rights abuses. It’s a new form of brutal colonialism. Brought to you by the Left, the Church of Climate, and the IRA.

Now, why aren’t these myths about wind, solar, and batteries exposed as nonsensical under the basic laws of science that a high school student should be able to posit? Well, the myths masquerade under a veneer of an effective tactic. A tactic that if done objectively is of great use, but when purposely misapplied by the Left does great harm.

The tactic I speak of is ESG screening methodology; ESG standing for environmental, social, and governance. The Left uses ESG as a blunt instrument to punish domestic energy and cover over those inconvenient myths of wind, solar, and EVs. How? By distorting the E within ESG.

I wrote a piece that you can find on that gained a bit of notoriety in the energy space and capital markets. Its title, and this is the last time I will borrow another movie title, is: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of ESG.

The good, or the Blondies, of ESG investing focus on tangible objective performance metrics that help filter best-in-class performers within a group from the norm or poor performers. Example: show me the safest and most compliant player in an energy or manufacturing field and it will likely be the most profitable or lowest-cost player.

The bad, or Angel Eyes, of ESG investing is the racket. Corporations making vague promises about this or that years into the future, typically after the CEO retires. Or an investment house using ESG labels to shove high-fee products down gullible throats where the ESG portfolio doesn’t look all that different than a standard one. Or pension funds preaching ESG but who don’t want to do the hard work to properly screen players and instead rely solely on third party institutions who arbitrarily judge ESG worthiness using an ideological bias wrapped within a black-box model no one can see.

The ugly, or Tucos, of ESG investing are what happens when companies get distracted from true substantive risk management by ESG gloss and optics. Exhibit A in state: PG&E. Hundreds of millions spent on charging stations, solar, and optics while starving core infrastructure, including a 90+ year old transmission line hook, of needed maintenance. The utility was celebrated as an ESG leader. Until. Then the consequences: deaths, a third-world grid, and bankruptcy.

Yes, the symptoms and consequences of the Left meddling in energy are real. It creates energy scarcity, which creates energy inflation, which then stokes general inflation. It helps create energy insecurity in the West and a dependency on places like Russia, because when wind and solar inevitably fail to perform at scale, the energy needs to come from somewhere. Putin feels emboldened and decides he can take a nation or two because of his energy stranglehold over the EU that the Left gave him.

Climate change is not the problem. It’s been happening for millions of years. Climate change policies and the myths they embody are the problem.


Now you sense my anxiety. The Left is everything I am not. And on top of that, the Left is looking to eradicate my beloved industry and region out of existence, with serious consequences for a range of stakeholders, from the local to the global.

That realization built over time and changed me. I used to subscribe to what I referenced as ‘political quietism’. Keep your head down, ignore the babble, and do your job. But with everything I just discussed looming larger, I began to ponder if that is what good leaders do. Is it ethical to not speak in defense of the accurate, of the rational?

I began to focus on policy advocacy. I maintain a website where I’m constantly posting various thoughts and materials and commentaries; I’m active on Twitter and LinkedIn. And I publish a podcast weekly titled The Far Middle, as in not the far right and not the far left.

And, yes, I wrote a book, Precipice: The Left’s Campaign to Destroy America. I encourage you to give the book a read; all the royalty proceeds go to another one of my endeavors, which is helping to fund the CNX Foundation’s Mentorship Academy – check that out on my website or on the CNX Foundation website.


I’d like to discuss the core themes of Precipice and tie them back to where I started: California and LA. What this epic state and great city once represented as the ideal for Americans and what they have unfortunately become: bastions of the Left.

It is uncanny how you can take the themes of Precipice and align them with what is going on here. And you know it better than me, so I will be brief. But it’s worth mentioning.

The overarching theme of the book is that our society, economy, and culture have historically broken down into two broad groups. In one category are Creators, Enablers, and Servers of value creation.

Creators are the foundation; they create wealth, and range from inventors to surgeons to construction workers to those in manufacturing. They are the embodiment of competent man or woman.

Enablers make the job of the creator easier, possible, or more efficient. They include nurses to the surgeon, accountants to the innovator businessperson, or long-haul truck drivers to get a Creator product to its destination. Without Enablers, Creators cannot do their thing, or are throttled.

Servers take the invention or service of the Creator and use it to make life more enjoyable. The Server class is large and includes obvious examples of professions such as waiter or Uber driver. But Servers also include pro athletes and musicians; although sometimes we look to define those professions into something they are not. Servers don’t make life possible like Creators or Enablers, but Servers make life better.

Those three constitute the first category. And some professions can subjectively be defined as part of two or even three of the subcategories. But what these three groups have in common is that if you let Creators, Enablers, and Servers do their thing in a free market economy with minimal government intervention, you have the success that was America. And that was California. And that was this great city that blossomed in an arid basin out of nothing.

Then there is the second category out there today. One that doesn’t create value or optimize it. Instead, this category exists to appropriate value and consume it. I refer to it as the Leech. It is perhaps more of an organism because it exhibits a set of common characteristics that I define as the ‘Leech way’. It serves as a leftist roadmap.

The Leech used its ground game to commandeer professions and regions and institutions, converting them from once manufacturers of value into present-day exporters of need. Once noble professions are subsumed.

Which professions have fallen under control of the Leech and the Left?

Certainly, much of government. The bureaucratic state is a monster. I tag it as the Deep State in the book. Not ‘deep’ as in secret; I wish. No, ‘deep’ as in rooted and entrenched everywhere and with everything. There is a historical lineage of how it came to be, from Wilson to FDR to LBJ to Obama to what we have today. The individual can do nothing today without government approval. And California is in many ways ground zero of the Deep State movement.

Public unions are another domain of the Leech. Teachers’ unions, which punish great teachers, students, parents, and taxpayers so that the union can grow its power and influence. Have you seen LA County Unified School District competency scores in math, science, and reading? Yet what have funding levels done over decades as scores have declined? What happened here with education during pandemic and who called the shots? Who benefits and who pays the price says a lot.

The media: another tragedy where a once noble profession the Founders thought of as vital to our republic and needing Constitutional protection that has morphed into the propaganda agency of the Left. Here we have Hollywood to the LA Times, serving as front and center exhibits of this crisis in journalism.

The tech industry here in Cali and across the nation should be ashamed. On one hand it surely exhibits classic Creator, Enabler, and Server traits; true, massive value creation for society. But then it looked to curry favor with the Left and supported its aims and ideology. And it made the Leech stronger. And now the tech industry is getting its just due in return as the Leech turns its attention to the industry.

Academia went from the marketplace of ideas to an Iron Curtain of ideology. From where a student expanded horizons to one where the student comes out indoctrinated with narrower horizons. The California state university system was once the envy of the world. Today it is a massive burden, fiscally and culturally, for state taxpayers and citizens.

When the Left controls government, it is only a matter of time before the policies of government feed the Leech and catalyze its growth. Consider Fed monetary policy: massively negative real interest rates and constant running of money printing presses fund a model of outspending. To punish savers and to subsidize broken business models. To manipulate capital markets and pick winners and losers.

The consequences here include inflation and real estate bubbles. And a growing spate of bank failures whose balance sheets became addicted to perpetual free money monetary policy along with making loans to risky businesses whose entire business model was premised on free money. And SVB is only the start, friends.

These tactics come to bear the heaviest in our major cities. I don’t need to lecture you about LA or San Francisco. We know exactly what Dave Chapelle meant when he referenced San Francisco and asked out loud, ‘what happened to this place?’

In The Far Middle episode 101, at approximately the 11:20 mark, Nick discusses California’s precipitous drop in personal income tax revenue—signaling difficult decisions loom for the Golden State.

I also have a few chapters at the end of the book that explore three individuals in depth. You may enjoy the chapter on Bono; I understand members of U2 had homes or owned property in Malibu. And with LA being one of the largest dioceses of the Catholic Church in America, check out the chapter on Pope Francis. I am not a fan of the current pontiff, from my perspective of being both American and Catholic.

Yes, sadly California and Los Angeles served as much of the inspiration for Precipice. And the rest of America is gravitating toward where you are. The Left and the Leech never sleep, they always are growing by consuming the value of others. Day by day. Profession by profession. State by state.


To wrap, I have just a few simple asks. First, please consider giving Precipice a read and share your thoughts on LinkedIn or in an Amazon review. Second, please follow me if you use LinkedIn or Twitter. Much of my advocacy effort flows on those platforms; they are great ways to connect with me and the content.

The Far Middle podcast is always looking for new constant listeners. Please join those growing ranks – we issue episodes weekly, and they run under half an hour. I think you will enjoy them. Prior episodes are archived and available as well.

And my website is the depository for all the advocacy content, from book to podcast to news. Check-in regularly. By the way, I posted a piece on LA in late 2021 you can find on the website under the Commentary section titled ‘Ode to Los Angeles from a Wary Admirer.’

Last, please speak up in defense of free enterprise, capitalism, individual rights, fiscal responsibility, value creators, and the middle class. For LA, for California, and for America.

For daily insights and commentary from Nick Deiuliis, follow Nick on Twitter at @NickDeiuliis and on LinkedIn.



Talking Energy, Region, and Careers at the Rock: Another Best Day Ever

The summary below follows Nick Deiuliis’ March 2, 2023, presentation to Slippery Rock University students and faculty.

Life in the digital age leaves much to be desired, but occasionally offers serendipitous moments. An unexpected opportunity pops up and turns out to be engaging.

I received a message on LinkedIn from an undergraduate student in petroleum engineering at Slippery Rock University who recently took on the role of chapter president for the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE).

He introduced himself and asked if I would be willing to come speak to the SPE chapter.

That’s impressive initiative that deserved an affirmative answer.

Shared Appalachian Connections

And with so much shared history, how could I resist such a request?

Slippery Rock University traces its western Pennsylvania roots back to 1889, which is a few decades after the founding of the company I work for, CNX Resources, in Appalachia. Both share a history and are long time regional leaders of western Pennsylvania and Appalachia.

The request was a chance to spend time with engineering, physics, chemistry, and safety management students. Disciplines I’ve had the pleasure of toiling in, working with, and proudly associating with for decades. My kind of crowd.

There are zero degrees of separation between company and university. The employee ranks of CNX are filled with Slippery Rock alums. From a vice president (who pressed me to remind the audience of his gridiron glory) to an intern who recently became a full-time engineer (who clearly had a more popular following by students and faculty than our vice president).

I never want to turn down a chance to hear from and fire up the next generation of Appalachia, the domestic energy sector, and the manufacturing industry. Making sure every student knew the massive career opportunity set waiting for them. Letting them know they indeed have what it takes to succeed in their craft. And listening to gage where their heads are in an increasingly chaotic world.

I always welcome opportunities to unabashedly promote Appalachia, western Pennsylvania, domestic energy, CNX Resources, and Slippery Rock University. An economic and social ecosystem where it’s all for one and one for all.

The visit also served an opportunity to recruit. Not just for CNX Resources, but on behalf of all the fabulous partners we work with in the energy industry and within Appalachia. I hoped to return from Slippery Rock with a roster of connections and a stack of resumes. Mission accomplished.

CNX embraces its Appalachia First vision for the region, and it doesn’t get more Appalachia First than this.

Let’s Talk…

Slippery Rock offers a strong array of STEM-centric majors: physical sciences, engineering, and safety management to name a few. Students and faculty convened in the Vincent Science Center auditorium and we got right into it.

The Vincent Science Center is home to the Physics and Engineering Department at Slippery Rock University.

We covered the potential of the Appalachian basin, recognizing it is the second-largest natural gas field on the planet when you combine the Marcellus and Utica shale horizons. Natural gas is not a bridge fuel, but instead a catalyst fuel for the future.

We discussed the need for resilient businesses to secure competitive moats within their industry and market.

To illustrate, I explained how CNX Resources enjoys three moats of resilient, competitive advantage: stacked pay acreage of Marcellus and Utica shales, vertically integrated assets of upstream production wells and midstream pipelines, and an avenue of new growth offered by the development and commercialization of new technologies to provide future energy solutions.

We dove deep into culture and values of organizations.

By example, CNX embodies the three core values of responsibility, ownership, and excellence. We might invest time defining them with words for a website or brochure, but in the end the values will be understood and evident by seeing them come alive in the decision making throughout the organization. From the newest employee to the CEO; from the smallest to the largest decisions.

Values and culture are crucial filters when making decisions in the real world. If you see the culture/value ‘talk’ not aligning with the ‘walk,’ there is a problem. When encountering such a conflict, always look to the ‘walk’ for the true culture/values.

We also addressed timely topics one hears about everywhere these days, but topics that are typically not subjected to sufficiently rigorous thought. I referenced such topics as a select grouping of popular ‘urban legends’ in energy and business.

At the front of the group was ESG investing; how it is labeled as a cure-all remedy and the inevitable future of investing. But reality has exposed a stratified layer of good, bad, and ugly applications of ESG.

Of course, climate change was included in the agenda. The certainty of rising atmospheric CO2 levels from human activity. But the far from certain and hopelessly inaccurate climate models when it comes to predicting the impact of CO2 on past, present, and future climate.

Is there a bigger urban legend these days than the myth of zero carbon/emission-free wind and solar?

We walked through the complex, murky, and often ugly supply chain of producing an intermittent kWh of electricity in Pennsylvania from wind or solar. And what happens to stakeholders along that supply chain: from child workers in Africa, to slave laborers in Xinjiang, to ruined ecosystems in the developing world, to stressed and unreliable grids in America and Europe, to the regressively taxed middle-class ratepayers.

Climate policies that protect, subsidize, and mandate wind and solar are stacking up a resume of failure across global grids. Power grids in the EU, UK, California, Texas, and here in Pennsylvania (PJM nearly broke during this past Christmas Eve cold snap) have all stressed or broke at the worst possible times due to the consequences of a mandated energy transition that was not well thought out.

Wind and solar, along with EVs, comprise quite the sustainability horror story. Worse yet, their life cycle carbon footprints are far from zero, and likely grossly exceed the life cycle carbon footprints of domestic energy sources such as power generation fueled by regional natural gas. It’s simply a matter of performing a basic carbon mass balance across supply chains.

The geopolitical implications of energy policy were not left out of the conversation.

Climate policies that mandate wind and solar are de facto projections of geopolitical power for China, the primary American adversary today, who enjoys dominant control of the supply chains for wind, solar, and EVs. Conversely, allowing domestic energy to ‘do its thing’ in the competitive free market serves as a projection of American power as effective as military might.

The expert class shouts endlessly about a Code Red for humanity as it relates to climate change. But the real Code Red for humanity pertains not to climate change, but instead to climate change policies.

Wanting to believe wind, solar, and EVs are zero carbon and sustainable is blind ideology bordering on religion. Daring to know the harsh reality is true to the scientific method and is faithful to rational thought.

Thymos: Propellant of Futures and Careers

Toward the end, things turned a bit philosophical. The Greeks introduced the concept of thymos, an individual’s drive to be recognized and to achieve.

Different people exude different levels of thymos. Same with teams, companies, and groups. Students need to assess where they sit on the thymos meter, and then seek out a culture and team that matches their personal level.

There is no right or wrong level of thymos. But a mismatch between the individual’s and organization’s thymos level will result in a bad fit. Recognize the importance of inner thymos, assess how it lines up with that of the team, and career choices become clearer.

A great proxy for high levels of thymos is a preference for in-person work over remote work. That’s true for individuals as well as companies. With the availability of remote work in a post-pandemic world, young professionals have a useful gage for matching thymos levels. If one is high-thymos, they may struggle on a team that embraces a remote work environment.

The conversation wrapped on the topics of advocacy and duty. It used to be that a professional could keep one’s head down and ignore the discourse of debate. Not so today. STEM professionals share a duty, morally and ethically, to advocate with fact and science. And to do so civilly.

That’s why I answered the call for Slippery Rock. And why I plan on coming back.

Crunching the Numbers: Energy Source Externality Accounting

Nick’s discussion and commentary below follows an inquiry from an academic team conducting research on externality costs. The inquiry asked to identify peer companies that either externalize the smallest or largest proportion of their costs. Externalities were defined as, “costs incurred by third parties, such as local communities, due to a company’s business operations that are not borne by the company itself.”

In his response to the inquiry, Nick suggests externality accounting is first performed across different sources of energy and power generation prior to assessing peers or competitors within a specific type of energy. Nick subsequently compares the externality costs between the natural gas industry versus the wind and solar industries.

Properly Sequencing Externality Accounting

Externality accounting is a useful tool when applied objectively, but one that is often misapplied and mishandled by those looking to dial in desired outcomes. Many fail to appreciate the sequencing of externality screening is crucially important when assessing entities across the energy industry.

Before assessing peers or competitors within a specific type of energy (such as natural gas), one should first apply externality accounting across the different sources of energy and power generation.

Thus, I propose a context of peer/competitor that is a level higher than, and a precursor to, what you proposed in your request.

The first cut of externalities should be done on an energy source-versus-energy source basis. In other words, domestic natural gas compared to wind or solar energy sources.

Society must screen options of energy sources within the wider portfolio first, and then set policy and investments to reflect the math of the externality accounting. First figure out the best energy source, as dictated by externality accounting.

After the first cut, or filtering, by energy source, one can then turn attention to different players within individual energy sources.

Getting the externality accounting/ranking for discrete energy sources (natural gas versus wind or solar) right is much more important than, and is a prerequisite to, screening or ranking individual players within an energy source (CNX Resources versus our natural gas competitors).

Many, including those in academia and government, have failed miserably to perform the rudimentary externality accounting and ranking of different energy sources. That leads to wrong-headed energy and climate policies resulting in dire consequences seen everywhere these days. Conditions will only worsen until this failure is corrected.

So, for the purpose of your inquiry and the discussion that follows, I am the natural gas industry, not just a player within it. And my peers/competition are the wind and solar industries, not another peer in the natural gas industry.

CNX Resources

CNX Resources is not a typical public energy company. We occupy a unique space in both the industry and region we call home.

We are nearly 160 years old – Abe Lincoln was president when we were incorporated. We manufacture natural gas in the northern Appalachian basin (PA/OH/WV/VA). The Appalachian basin “accounts for nearly one-third of all U.S. dry natural gas production,” and looks to be the second largest natural gas field on the planet. We operate in the Marcellus and Utica shales, we collect coal mine methane, and we operate midstream pipeline and processing infrastructure.

At CNX, our sustainable business model is simple: Tangible, Impactful, and Local. We’ve embraced the role as a regional innovator driving Appalachia’s socio-economic revitalization through local talent, homegrown energy, and breakthrough technologies.

We don’t apologize for what we do for society, we proudly celebrate it.

If our industry were to disappear tomorrow, society would come to a complete halt and humans across the planet would suffer greatly. That might not be what the experts or the environmental movement warrant, but that is certainly the engineering reality.

CNX recently unveiled its Appalachia First vision, which lays out many of the key themes I discuss below. Please learn more about our vision at The site includes an approximately 45-minute presentation where I further discuss Appalachia First, which can be best summed up as “produce it here, use it here, first.” I think you will appreciate some of the policy positions.

Natural Gas

There are a few, crucial scientific and engineering realities that are often ignored when assessing the externalities of domestic natural gas.

Natural gas is the most cost-effective form of energy in the United States, providing consumers, businesses, and homeowners savings in energy costs that total in the hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Rampant inflation has caught everyone’s attention these days; the most effective means to curtail general inflation is to simply allow natural gas to provide cheap energy so that energy inflation, and by extension general inflation, is mitigated.

Natural gas is the superior solution to immediate and material greenhouse gas emission reductions. Domestic natural gas has and can continue delivering these benefits while maintaining power grid reliability during the dark days of winter and dog days of summer.

Power grid reliability cannot be underscored enough. From college campuses to homes, from hospitals to emergency responders, and from government buildings to other businesses and facilities, America needs power all day and night, 24/7, 365 days/year.

Environmental Benefits of Natural Gas

Today, much attention is focused on methane emissions. Natural gas produced in Appalachia has the lowest methane intensity (0.09%) of all major U.S. oil and natural gas-producing basins, according to Clean Air Task Force data. Additionally, Rystad Energy analysis of CO2 intensity performance “brings Appalachia to the top quartile among all oil and gas fields globally” with the firm expecting the basin to “improve further in its CO2 intensity dimension in the next three to four years.”

When natural gas competes with alternative energy sources in a free market, emissions drop, and environmental quality improves. As natural gas-fired electric generation topped 40% of the total grid, power sector emissions dropped by nearly the same, per the U.S. EPA. “The decrease in coal-powered electricity generation and increase in natural gas and renewable energy electricity generation contributed to a decoupling of emissions trends from electric power generation trends over the recent time series,” the agency wrote in its April 2022 inventory.

Consider the specific example of the PJM power grid. Power sector emissions declined 11% year-over-year as natural gas grew to 44% of PJM’s total capacity. And, Pennsylvania had the highest absolute decline of energy-related CO2 emissions of any state between 1990 and 2018, with emissions falling as natural gas became the state’s largest electricity source. The data and facts are unequivocal, yet rarely heard.

Economic Benefits of Natural Gas

The environmental gains tied to natural gas come with additional economic and job creation benefits.

Natural gas development across Appalachia has breathed new life into forgotten Rust Belt communities and brought the building trades and apprentice programs to full employment.

Careers paying family-sustaining wages offer on-ramps to the middle class for young adults in urban and rural communities who are not able or wanting to attend college. Manufacturing, which relies on reliable and cheap energy inputs, is experiencing a resurgence across Appalachia and the Midwest, creating a downstream benefit to the natural gas industry. These create huge, positive externalities.

Investment and growth in the natural gas industry grows tax base for governments and communities. Today governments are desperate for sustainable endeavors and economic sectors that pay their fair share of tax. You won’t find another industry in Appalachia that pays more of a fair share of tax than the natural gas industry.

And natural gas is the catalyst that accelerates and de-risks the integration of next-generation technologies, such as hydrogen, into our economy. That creates optionality for innovation, a serious and positive contributor to the externality math.

Bottom line: there’s never been a better climate jobs program than the shale gas revolution. Performing an objective and clinical externality accounting would prove it.

Intermittent Wind and Solar Energy Sources

Now, let’s discuss the externalities of wind and solar.

The most fundamental misunderstanding about wind and solar is the myth that they present a zero carbon footprint. That is simply not true, not by a long shot.

Carbon footprint must be assessed on a life cycle, scopes 1-3, basis. It doesn’t matter to the atmosphere where the CO2 is emitted in the life cycle of making and running a wind turbine or solar panel; just because there is not a significant emission once in place does not mean there is a zero carbon footprint.

To accurately account for the carbon footprints of wind and solar, the supply chain of how wind and solar power ‘happen’ must be traced:

  • First, massive environmentally destructive mining must occur in Russia, China, and Africa for the metals and materials comprising wind turbines and solar panels. That presents a huge carbon footprint and large CO2 emissions.
  • The raw mining products must be processed to purify them, which also requires huge inputs of carbon power and the associated CO2 emissions.
  • Then components need manufactured in factories, often in China, that are carbon-powered.
  • Manufactured components are then shipped thousands of miles on carbon-fueled planes, trains, ships, and trucks to arrive in places like America.
  • Trees and land must be cleared to site pads and concrete will be used to build the pads for the turbines and panels, emitting more carbon dioxide.
  • New transmission lines must be run to every wind turbine and solar panel block/array, requiring the felling of more trees to create the rights-of-way and the manufacturing of the new power lines, adding to the CO2 emission tally.
  • Backup and reliable sources of generation will be required for when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing, which will typically be carbon-based power generation (often coal) creating more carbon dioxide emissions.
    • There is no such thing as a wind- and solar-only grid, because both sources of electricity are intermittent (battery storage cannot be scaled to serve as backup and it has a carbon footprint worse than wind and solar).
    • It’s also worth noting the double-building and maintenance of power generation units increases costs to consumers.
  • In seven to 10 years, you need to perform this process all over again, because the turbines become obsolete and must be scrapped (there is no way to recycle wind turbine blades) and solar panel efficiency declines year after year. The repeat of the cycle doubles the carbon footprint.

There is also the impact on surface land that wind and solar have to add to the externality analysis. For a 100% wind- and solar-powered U.S. grid, wind and solar farms would have to occupy 300 million additional acres of land beyond what’s used to power our economy today. That’s building solar and wind farms across land areas equivalent to Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma, according to Bloomberg analysis of Princeton data. A ridiculous non-starter of course, yet no one seems to acknowledge it as such.

Negative externalities exist with the aforementioned disposal of turbines and panels beyond their useful lives. Wind turbines can’t be recycled and are “piling up” in landfills, according to Bloomberg. Solar panels contain hazardous materials which must be disposed of properly or risk environmental damage; most environmentalists would consider it hazardous waste (until you told them it was from solar).

Today, consumers want their eggs to come from cage free chickens, their tuna to be caught with dolphin friendly nets, their straws to be biodegradable, their detergents to not use chemicals harmful to water ecosystems, and their jewelry to have gems that are conflict-free.

Yet there is not a home in America today with rooftop solar that can say with certainty those panels were not partially manufactured by either child- or slave-labor. The human rights abuses tied to the murky global supply chains of wind and solar are egregious. Yesterday we were concerned about blood diamonds; today the concern should be about blood solar. The externality cost of human rights abuses in the manufacturing of wind and solar is sobering.

And there is no wind turbine in America today that can warrant it does not kill scores of birds and bats, many of them endangered. Offshore wind farms near New York and New Jersey are being constructed in the middle of endangered whale habitat, and, wouldn’t you know it, but dead whales are now washing up on beaches in New Jersey and New York. Yesterday we were worried about saving the whales and the bald eagle; today the worry should be how wind turbines lay waste to whales and eagles. Energy production that proves deadly to sensitive species and habitats should be reflected in an externality analysis.

Wind and solar require tax subsidy that exceeds total subsidy of natural gas, coal, or oil by orders of magnitude. When you add up the various programs and subsidies to favor wind and solar, the tally will register in the hundreds of billions of dollars (or perhaps even in the trillions of dollars), depending on what time frame you choose. Those valuable dollars could be invested elsewhere and should be added as an externality cost.

There are serious geopolitical externality costs tied to wind and solar. China’s control of the solar panel supply chain has ballooned to 84% over the past decade, with the country also controlling the bulk of critical minerals production and processing necessary for battery storage. This is a critical risk that presents energy security, supply chain, and national security concerns that manifest as negative externalities.

Wind and solar aren’t keeping pace with global energy demand, falling 165 exajoules short of needed capacity, according to the 2022 BP Statistical Review of World Energy. Growing global energy demand requires massive scale that cannot be met with wind and solar under the laws of physics.

When wind and solar inevitably fail to deliver at scale due to their engineering realities, energy security in places like Europe necessarily falls back to carbon-based fuels from places like Russia. That emboldens despots to use the gifted energy leverage to warmonger, as in the case of Ukraine. Climate policies and the resulting flawed reliance on wind and solar are the root causes of the war in Ukraine. The policies created a de facto EU reliance on Russian energy. What’s the externality cost of Russia in the Ukraine? Whatever it is, add it to the negative externality tally for wind and solar.

Add it Up

Tabulating the externality impacts of energy provided through natural gas and comparing it to those for wind and solar will present a trio of decisive and obvious conclusions:

  1. All economic activity and forms of energy have carbon footprints; there is no such thing as truly zero carbon power or a zero carbon economy.
  2. Natural gas offers the best net externality balance within an energy portfolio. Its externality benefits are substantial and diverse while its externality costs are modest.
  3. Wind and solar present a massively negative net externality cost to society, particularly when the attempt is to deploy them at scale.

These three conclusions are opposite of what is warranted by the environmental movement, and many in government and academia. Climate and energy policies are set that ignore the math. We share a duty to correct that.

Further readings
U.S. natural gas production set a new record in 2021
Benchmarking Methane and Other GHG Emissions of Oil & Natural Gas Production in the United States
“International analysis finds Marcellus best in carbon dioxide intensity”
Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2020
China’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Exceed Those of All Other Developed Countries Combined
Net-Zero America: Potential Pathways, Infrastructure, and Impacts
Wind Turbine Blades Can’t Be Recycled, So They’re Piling Up in Landfills
Statistical Review of World Energy