Detroit News Opinion: Life wouldn’t be the same without natural gas

Most Michiganders are familiar with natural gas as the fuel that helps us keep our homes warm and comfortable in the winter. We may also use it to cook our meals, heat our water, dry our clothes, and light up our fireplaces.

Gas does all these jobs safely, efficiently, and affordably.

Michigan residents were expected to see an 18 percent reduction in their natural gas heating bills for the winter of 2015. This is good news for the nearly 80 percent of Michigan homes that use gas for heating, and is primarily due to a huge increase in our nation’s gas supply over the past several years.

And while Michigan has more than 10,000 producing natural gas wells, we are notably fortunate to have the nation’s largest underground storage capacity, which helps keep prices low during periods of high demand.

It’s no secret that natural gas will be critical for Michigan’s future electric generation. Although our state has traditionally relied on coal-burning power plants, many of these plants are being shut down due to environmental regulations and the increasing cost advantage of natural gas as fuel. A robust gas supply will enable our utilities to meet expected demand with much lower emissions and costs, and also to help build up their sources of renewable energy.

Michigan’s chemical companies certainly appreciate the role of natural gas in supplying affordable, reliable, and clean power. But perhaps more than any other sector, our industry needs natural gas because it is a central ingredient for many of our products.

In America, natural gas is a main feedstock that is then broken down into various elements essential for our economy. With over 96 percent of all manufactured goods directly touched by the business of chemistry, we wouldn’t recognize life without these products.

For example, ammonia-based feedstocks from natural gas are used in fertilizers for agriculture, and in nylon for carpet. Ethylene is used in everything from plastic packaging, housewares, and construction products, to clothing, insulation, tires, and shoes. And methanol goes into gasoline, paints, and silicone products. Many of these chemistry products make everyday life not only more convenient, but also more sustainable. And while bio-based feedstocks may one day be viable, for now natural gas is the indispensable ingredient.

That’s why we support improvements to Michigan’s energy infrastructure, including the expansion of gas pipelines that will safely bring significant new supplies to our state and region. While gas production has been growing in many areas of the U.S., our delivery network is struggling to keep up.

We stand concerned as anti-fracking activists in Michigan try now for the third time to outlaw hydraulic fracturing in our state, even though it has been done safely here for decades. In fact, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently reportedthat fracking now accounts for more than half of the new oil and gas production in America.

And this boom in domestic energy has helped revive American manufacturing, including a renaissance in the business of chemistry. Fracking may have boosted our economy by an estimated $48 billion per year and created hundreds of thousands of jobs during the recession, according to a recent study out of The Brookings Institution.

Public policy should encourage — not hinder — this important resource. Life wouldn’t be the same without the energy and products of chemistry that we get from natural gas.

John Dulmes is executive director of the Michigan Chemistry Council.

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