PA Energy Choices

This section of the lesson discusses the energy choices that one state, Pennsylvania, has made and how those choices are changing with the advent of unconventional natural gas drilling in the state and in the region.

The material on this page asks you to review and compare the following documents:

  1. U.S. Energy Information Administration, Pennsylvania State Energy Profile
  2. The Sankey diagrams for Pennsylvania and the United States as a whole, which you saw in the previous segment of this lesson. The Sankey diagrams are a useful way for us to compare energy choices in Pennsylvania with those of the United States as a whole.
  3. Dash for Gas, 21st Century Style,” an article describing some of the forces driving interest in unconventional natural gas production.

As you read the Pennsylvania State Energy Profile, make sure that you review the highlighted points in the front of the document and the longer description of Pennsylvania energy in the second half of the document (after all of the pages of data and statistics).

Pennsylvania is a major energy-producing state, second only after Texas (we’ll see a lot of comparisons between Pennsylvania and Texas in this section of the lesson). The state is a leader in virtually all forms of energy production and conversion, with the exception of crude oil production. Its position as a major producer of natural gas has happened with astonishing speed. As recently as five years ago, natural gas production in Pennsylvania was a drop in the bucket as compared with states like Texas and Louisiana. Now, Pennsylvania is the second-largest gas producer (second only after Texas). Even with the recent decline of the coal industry in the U.S., Pennsylvania still remains in the top five coal-producing states, and is the only major producer of anthracite coal, which has high value for industrial use.

Not all of Pennsylvania’s energy choices have been based on exploiting fossil energy resources. The state is one of the larger wind energy producers in the eastern United States, and is the second largest nuclear power producer in the country. Because of the ready availability of very cheap natural gas, the state’s electric power sector is in the process of shutting down coal-fired power stations in favor of those running on natural gas. If you look at the Sankey diagram for Pennsylvania for 2012, you’ll see that the state used a bit more than twice as much coal as natural gas for power plant fuel (900 trillion BTU of coal versus 410 billion BTU of natural gas, and if you go back a decade there was virtually no natural gas used for power generation in Pennsylvania). But by 2015, the use of natural gas for power plants in Pennsylvania was about equal to the use of coal. This shift has been driven by a number of factors, including changes in markets for electric energy favoring gas-fired technologies and the emergence of natural gas so cheap that it has pushed coal from its long-held place as the most economical fuel for power plants.

Pennsylvania’s mix of energy sources is very close to that of the United States as a whole. Comparing the Sankey diagrams for the U.S. and Pennsylvania, there are very few major differences. Pennsylvania uses a little larger share of nuclear power in its electricity generation mix than the U.S. as a whole, and uses less biomass in industry and for transportation.

An important aspect of Pennsylvania’s energy choices is the state’s position as a major energy supplier to other states along the eastern seaboard. Fully one-third of all electricity generated in Pennsylvania is moved over long-distance power lines to other states. Within the past several years Pennsylvania has become a large natural gas exporter to New England and to states in the southern Mid-Atlantic region. While not a major crude oil producer, Pennsylvania is a major refining center, providing gasoline and diesel fuel for regional consumption.