The COVID-19 pandemic has provided, and maybe even prompted, an opportunity for pause and reflection for many of us: time to think on what is important, how to adapt to quickly changing circumstances, and how we contribute to the greater good of humanity.
When we look back at this pandemic, we often think of how rough 2020 was but, we also recall seeing unity, perseverance, and the heroes on the frontlines fighting to help others. However, one of the less visible key players combating COVID-19 is the natural gas industry.
The oil and natural gas industries are quite literally fueling the fight against COVID. From creating the plastic to form the vaccine vial, to powering the manufacturing facilities that produce personal protective equipment, natural gas has proven to be a critical ally in the battle of the pandemic.
When breaking down the science of natural gas’s impact, it is important to understand the components of manufacturing plastic. Thanks to our liquids-rich position in the Marcellus shale, we produce large quantities of ethane and propane. These hydrocarbons are then “cracked” to make ethylene and propylene, the building blocks for plastics.
Projects like the Shell Cracker Plant located in Beaver County, PA will help our region and the nation to produce the plastics most needed during the pandemic. Likewise, Range has also partnered with PTT Global Chemical Company to provide ethane for a prospective ethylene cracker plant located just over the Ohio border, which we expect to provide Range with a significant revenue uplift compared to other more distant markets.
Plastics play an important role in creating sterile and necessary products for the medical field. Rubber gloves, goggles, syringes, and endless other medical supplies are all connected to crude oil. Another vital material used in hospitals is glass, which is mainly produced via natural gas combustion. Medical glass products utilizing natural gas combustion include lab beakers, microscope slides, and lab flasks.
More recently, the hydrocarbons the oil and natural gas industry produces have played an even larger role, and are a key building block for the vaccine itself. The vaccine contains polyethylene glycol, which is petroleum-based compound that ensures the vaccine can get across the cell membrane and into the cells themselves.
While being transported, the vials must be kept at -94 and -4 degrees respectively. The refrigerators needed to transport these crucial vaccines globally are composed of gas-produced plastics such as polycarbonate, polypropylene, and polystyrene. Not only does oil and natural gas create the refrigerator materials, but it also powers the machines used for transport. According to the Institute for Energy Research’s latest policy brief, the U.S. relies on oil and gas to power 95% of transportation needs.
Locally, the recently built Allegheny Health Network hospital, which sits just outside of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, relies on natural gas to power its facility. According to the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC), the hospital “has a natural gas power generation facility that supplies all of the building’s heating, cooling and electrical needs.” Along with providing the fuel to power facilities such as these, the MSC cites that natural gas has also contributed to meeting the increased demand for hand-sanitizer, anti-bacterial wipes, and ventilators.
Natural gas has shown to be a driving force in providing the medical field the materials it needs to fight this pandemic. And while it is evident that COVID gave the world a reason to pause, the oil and gas industry gives the world the momentum it needs to persevere.