Incoming PEC President & CEO, Davitt Woodwell, talks to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about energy and climate
Q: In terms of environmental sustainability and energy efficiency, where do you see Pittsburgh headed in the next 20 years?
A: The Pittsburgh region has made amazing strides in remaking itself over the last 30 years. We have been leaders in environmental restoration and reclamation. But we still need to address current and legacy environmental issues, including abandoned mine drainage, continued resource extraction and air quality.
At the same time, there is momentum in the region from government, colleges and universities, non-profits, forward-looking companies, and individuals to write the next chapter of environmental improvements. Whether it is green building advances, riverfront trail development, green chemistry, investigations into alternative fuels or climate initiatives, this region should continue to be a leader well into the next 20 years.
The results of this will be reflected not only in environmental metrics, but also in a stronger and sustainable regional economy, improved public health and a strong quality of life.
Q: In terms of environmental problems, what should Americans be the most concerned about and why?
A: Clearly, the climate change “debate” must come to an end. America must accept the science and move to act on limiting climate impacts.
It is a challenge that America is up to and represents not only environmental consequences but also considerable economic and national security concerns, as well. This is not about the weather, it is about long-term thinking and getting beyond the comfort zone of the here and now.
Q: What would you tell someone who has no idea about the natural gas industry about the Marcellus Shale?
A: The unconventional development of shale gas in Pennsylvania is a complicated issue with many facets and few, if any, easy sound bites.
On one hand, the development of this resource represents opportunity to the companies and mineral owners who sell the gas into the market. There are also ancillary economic benefits to local communities and to end users of the gas who are currently paying less for their fuel.
But, on the other hand, there are also impacts. Drilling for shale gas is essentially a portable industrial process and, like any industrial process, it leaves an imprint. Drilling uses land, water, and air. The development in Pennsylvania will also require the installation of thousands of miles of pipelines of various types. These will likely be the most serious impact on the surface in terms of acres disturbed and habitat impacted—and there is essentially no governance of the siting of most of these pipelines.
However, there are also important potential benefits to be realized from a switch to natural gas as a fuel. Compared with coal, the emissions from natural gas-fired power plants are cleaner, especially if we can ensure the reduction of methane leakage from various parts of the methane pathway from well pad to burner tip.
Right now, Colorado and Ohio have leaped ahead of Pennsylvania in this regard and we need to catch up. Especially for Western Pennsylvania, the shift from coal to natural gas could result in improved air quality, both locally and in regards to greenhouse gases.
By: Madasyn Czebiniak, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette