Natural Gas: Innovation and Disruption

The watchword in business today is “disruption,” something that uproots the current thinking and fundamentally changes how we think, behave and go about our day-to-day business. For years, natural gas has been a quiet disruptor.

In the early 2000s, when energy pioneers began extracting natural gas from shale formations through a combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, it altered the energy conversation on all sides of the globe. We always knew the gas was there, but our estimates of what could be produced with current technology did not include gas trapped in shale formations.

But about 12 years ago, the biennial Potential Gas Committee’s announcements about our nation’s technically recoverable resource base began heralding an abundant supply that shows no signs of slowing. On Nov. 30, 2018, the continental United States set a single-day record for natural gas production of 87 billion cubic feet. That is 81 percent higher than the daily average production in 2005. The short-term energy outlook from the Energy Information Administration expects U.S. natural gas production to average 90 bcf per day in 2019.

The industry has learned some difficult lessons about our “social license to operate” and our responsibility to communities. Any conversation about smart energy policy must also be about how we produce natural gas responsibly, deliver it safely, use it efficiently and continue to build a pathway toward a clean energy future.

Natural gas has disrupted this debate, as well. Increased natural gas efficiency and the growth of renewable energy supported by natural gas have led to energy-related carbon dioxide emissions dropping to 25-year lows. The natural gas industry shares the goal of continuing to reduce emissions. Natural gas utilities — and many others who have taken a thoughtful approach to this debate — see natural gas as a solution today and a pathway toward a clean energy future.

People often confuse innovation and disruption. They are not the same. Innovation can be a disruptor, but it can also simply be the drive toward progress and improvement.

The history of our industry is filled with innovation. Some have been disruptive, such as the massive advances in production technology that I mentioned, and some have been incremental, such as the development of increasingly more-efficient natural gas appliances.

Since 1970, gas utilities have added 30 million more residential customers with virtually no increase in overall emissions. This is due to tighter-fitting windows and doors, better insulation and utility-sponsored energy efficiency programs. This progress is remarkable, but we are an industry that adapts with the times, and the pace of change and reliance on technology in today’s society is nonstop. We are doing the necessary research and innovation to continue to be a part of our customers’ worlds for a lifetime.

Earlier this year, the American Gas Association worked with Enovation Partners on a report entitled “Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Pathways,” which explores current natural gas technologies and those under development that are proven to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining affordability, reliability and the quality of life that Americans enjoy. We found more than 100 innovative natural gas technologies for the residential/commercial market that have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 to 40 percent. Moreover, these technologies, such as combined heat and power and renewable natural gas, should be embraced and promoted if we want to make significant progress toward the worldwide goal of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius.

We are living through an era rife with disruption. From our political system to the technology in the palms of our hands, how we go about our day-to-day business is changing. As an optimist and a patriot, I fervently believe that America will emerge from this period stronger than ever and will maintain its role as a global leader. But we do ourselves and our nation a disservice if we lose sight of what made us great in the first place — compassion, ingenuity and a willingness to put the common good ahead of ideology.

Whatever your vision for the future, natural gas will be there. We have abundant natural resources — natural gas, oil, wind, sun, water and more. We are using these resources to provide essential energy to our communities at affordable prices, and a pathway has emerged toward sustaining this for generations. We must have the presence of mind to seize this moment together.


Dave McCurdy is the president and CEO of the American Gas Association, which represents more than 200 local energy companies that deliver clean natural gas throughout the United States, and McCurdy represented the Fourth Congressional District of Oklahoma in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1981 until 1995.

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