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Low-Cost Natural Gas Saves Thousands of Lives By Lowering Heating Bills

Natural gas is a powerful resources that is saving thousands of lives every single year. That’s the conclusion of a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research entitled “Inexpensive Heating Reduces Winter Mortality” The abstract of the paper states:

This paper examines how the price of home heating affects mortality in the US. 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. Our empirical approach combines spatial variation in the energy source used for home heating and temporal variation in the national prices of natural gas versus electricity. We find that a lower heating price reduces winter mortality, driven mostly by cardiovascular and respiratory causes.

And here’s the conclusion (emphasis added):

This paper finds that winter mortality is lower when the price of heating is lower. To put the estimated elasticity of all-cause mortality with respect to the price of heating of 0.03 in context, the price of natural gas relative to electricity fell by 42% between 2005 to 2010. Our findings imply that this price decline caused a 1.6% decrease in the winter mortality rate for households using natural gas for heating. Given that 58% of American households use natural gas for heating, the drop in natural gas prices lowered the US winter mortality rate by 0.9%, or, equivalently, the annual mortality rate by 0.4%. This represents more than 11,000 deaths per year.

This effect size is large enough that it should not be ignored when assessing the net health effects of shale production of natural gas. The findings also highlight the health benefits of other policies to reduce home energy costs, particularly for low-income households.

Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute writes:

“The American shale gas revolution illustrated above by the 57% increase in natural gas production in the US since 2006, which contributed to a 53% decrease in natural gas prices has helped to save tens of thousands of deaths every year. Likewise, any increase in average winter temperatures would similarly reduce winter mortality in the US and around the world. In contrast, how many lives would be lost if the Green New Deal was implemented and energy prices from inefficient windwills and solar panels dramatically increased?”

“According to The Economist “Few businesspeople have done as much to change the world as George Mitchell,” the father of fracking who pioneered the economic extraction of shale gas. George Mitchell died in 2013, but if he were still alive I would nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize for changing the world and saving tens of thousands of lives from lower energy costs. The Father of Fracking has saved infinitely more lives that past Nobel Peace laureates like Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama and Al Gore.”

These results are more relevant to Minnesota than many other states because 66 percent of our home heating comes from natural gas, while only around 15 percent of homes are heated with electricity. This is a good thing, because the paper features an interesting graph that which shows natural gas prices have plummeted since 2008 while electricity prices have increased.

This is especially good news for Minnesota because we know electricity prices in our state have increased 26 percent faster than the national average since 2007, when we started mandating the use of renewable energy. This is evident in the chart by the Energy Information Administration featured below, which shows the cost of electricity skyrocketing as the cost of natural gas has fallen and coal has stayed about the same. This strongly suggests wind, solar, and the transmission lines being built to accommodate them are behind rising electricity prices.

Not only is natural gas a more affordable source of energy for heating, it is far more reliable than using wind and solar to generate electricity, which could then be used to generate heat. As I wrote about in the Star Tribune during the polar vortex, wind production plummeted because it was too cold to run the turbines, and we know now that Xcel Energy’s solar panels produced less that 6 percent of their potential output because there was snow on the panels.

Renewable energy advocates have no problem claiming that fossil fuels kill people, but they never consider that fossil fuels save the lives of everyone who depends upon affordable, reliable, energy. There are serious negative impacts for substituting a lower cost, more reliable source of home heating (natural gas) with a more expensive and less reliable source (electricity generated by wind and solar). Simply said, the policies championed by the Green New Deal side of the political spectrum will cause more people to die in winter.

This should be the first thing conservatives bring up when wind and solar advocates attempt to increase the cost of our energy. It increases costs both in terms of money spent, and human lives.