The Effects of Coal and Natural Gas in Pennsylvania

Open Access
Miller, Christopher
Area of Honors:
Community, Environment, and Development
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
  • coal
  • natural gas
  • Pennsylvania
  • hydraulic fracturing
  • Marcellus Shale
  • economy
  • environment
The purpose of this paper is to point out three important aspects of the coal and natural gas industries that will influence their future in the Pennsylvania energy industry. Though these energy sources are used globally, local effects of production are significant. The communities that surround the energy reserves have a role in deciding how much they will publicly support the development of the resource and also will experience the economic and environmental impacts of it. The oil and gas in the US is both owned privately and by the government in the form of public lands. If people own the mineral rights, they have the freedom to determine which minerals they want to extract, where they want to go to extract it, and how much of it they want to produce. The US is one of the few countries where the minerals are not owned by the government. Energy companies have the right to extract energy, and this has opened up economic opportunities for those who live near the reserves and also those who consume it. Energy companies are among the most profitable businesses in the world. They can benefit people and communities on a local and regional scale by adding value to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of a state’s economy, making more people employed, and having a positive impact in other ways. Although energy companies have significant roles in the extraction of natural resources, the federal and state governments in the US determine the legal framework in terms of taxes and laws, and they can provide financial support. The government can subsidize energy companies, resources, research and development, and other important aspects of the energy industry. Economic incentives are important in a society where people can own the mineral rights to resources under private and public lands, and they are a major reason for why certain minerals are developed more than others. The price of coal is going up while the price of natural gas is going down. Understanding the current and historical trends of the costs of extracting, refining, and distributing resources like coal and natural gas are critical. The fact that the price of coal and natural gas are both low is one reason why they are so widely used for goods and services like electricity, cooking, making steel, and others. There are many underlying reasons for why resources can be low-priced and, in general, why the supply, demand, and other economic forces on these resources change. People need energy, but it is important to develop these resources while taking into account the effects on the environment and peoples’ health. Not factoring externalities into the price of the resource during the production of a resource can lead to consequences for others, and these issues are not always internalized by the companies that are causing them. There is a struggle among special interest groups and others to get coal and natural gas producers to internalize their costs. There are many sources of energy that could be produced and consumed in Pennsylvania and the surrounding region. Coal has long been one of the most important sources of energy for Pennsylvania residents. Compared with coal, the use of natural gas has been expanding due to its competitive low price and the mitigated environmental and human effects from producing it. There is less air pollution, fewer fatalities at the workplace, a lower incidence of health problems for the workers and their local communities, and smaller negative effects on the environment where the resource is extracted. With respect to coal and natural gas production, this paper will examine the negative effects on peoples’ health and the environment, the underlying economic forces that make it profitable, and other influences, such as the government and the people of Pennsylvania. It will conclude with a comparison of these major issues and factors. This will lead to a better understanding of the direction of the Pennsylvania energy industry, and whether coal or natural gas will become the more significant energy source for Pennsylvania residents.