Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing, and a sincere thanks to all the witnesses, many of whom have traveled across the country to provide testimony to the Committee.
The Committee will be examining several very important issues today, as we take testimony on the environmental effects of natural gas supplies. The first issue is obtaining a better understanding of the environmental effects of natural gas use.
Natural gas is the least carbon intensive fossil fuel. On a full lifecycle basis, from the time it is produced at the wellhead to the time it is burned, natural gas contributes at least 20 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than oil and at least 50 percent less than coal to our environment.
In relation to other fossil fuels, natural gas also results in lower emissions of sulphur, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter. All of these reduced emissions support efforts to improve local air quality. This is important, because as the Chairman knows, I feel that the country has a long way to go to improve air quality. As we do so, and as we seek to address climate change, natural gas will continue to play an important role.
In combination with energy conservation, natural gas will help to bridge our current energy needs with the non-carbon emitting and renewable energy sources that will become more and more a part of our generation mix.
I look forward to hearing from witnesses about whether and how our currently high gas prices are driving renewables and conservation in the short term. I also want to hear about whether this Committee could be doing more to encourage the Environmental Protection Agency’s natural gas efficiency programs to step up their efforts and assist the gas industry in implementing short-term measures to address high prices.
The second issue that we must examine is the effect of environmental laws, if any, on various sectors of the economy, including energy industries like the production of natural gas.
Of course, this Committee’s first and foremost responsibility is to assure that the nation’s laws are protective of public health and the environment. It is also our job to set performance standards for industries, such as the gas industry, which are adequately protective and wherever possible, fuel neutral. These standards should not be skewed to protect any one industry, but should encourage sustainable economic development.
Finally, the third issue we must examine are the effects on the environment of natural gas production and the sufficiency of our country’s environmental laws to address any adverse impacts.
We must be mindful that, as beneficial as the use of natural gas has been to generate electricity, heat our homes, and produce commodities, it has also had real environmental impacts on our country’s public and private lands. I feel that a good understanding of these issues is extremely important.
I think this is even more the case now that the Senate has before it an Energy Bill that would exempt natural gas and oil production sites from Clean Water Act stormwater permits, and would exempt hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Therefore, I am pleased that we will hear from witnesses, both natural gas producers and individuals who have examined drilling sites, about the sufficiency of these laws in protecting the environment.
Covering the issues I have outlined will provide a comprehensive look at this particular sector. I look forward to hearing from the witnesses.