Pennsylvania’s natural gas boom has produced tens of thousands of good-paying jobs, lowered energy costs, spurred a manufacturing renaissance, and made us less dependent on foreign energy.
The boom may not currently be as robust as it once was, but the outlook is bright.
While the shale revolution is here to stay, there are still public policy considerations that can either dramatically increase the benefits to all Pennsylvanians or seriously hamper them.
First, there must be sensible taxation. Contrary to the myth propagated by some, the natural gas industry pays more than its fair share of taxes. However, in the heyday of the natural gas boom some saw it as a cash cow that could be milked by special taxes levied on it. That would have been disastrous economic policy then, and even worse now.
Second, there must be reasonable regulation. Pennsylvania has some of the highest environmental standards overseeing the development of natural gas. Yet there are always those who clamor for punitive measures that would stifle the development of any indigenous Pennsylvania energy. That would kill jobs, cripple our economy and result in a decrease in our standard of living.
Third, there needs to be a push for increased demand. That can be effectuated in many ways: from the conversion of large buildings and fleets to natural gas, to more accessible means of transport and export of our natural gas.
That, of course, means increased pipeline development to carry the gas from our gas fields to markets close to home and far away. The radical environmentalist fringe has seized on pipeline development in recent years as a way of thwarting the safe and responsible development and use of Pennsylvania’s natural gas. Despite their constant harangue of scare tactics, the fact remains that gas pipelines are safe, secure and reliable – delivering less expensive energy to us, our neighbors, and allies.
Affordable and reliable clean energy is the lifeblood of 21st century Pennsylvania. The Commonwealth that ignited the Industrial Revolution can now supply ourselves and the world with the fuel of the new era. We’re blessed with an abundance of natural gas. Last year we produced more than 4.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. We only used a little more than 1.2 trillion. We stand on the threshold of being a major force in geopolitical energy.
There are many exciting things happening. Combined heat and power projects, innovative programs like UGI Utilities’ GET Gas pilot program, Pennsylvania’s Private Public Partnership Board’s decision to move forward with compressed natural gas fueling stations for public transit, and several new natural gas-fueled power plants are but a few. And none is bigger than Shell Chemical’s decision to build a major Marcellus “cracker” plant in Beaver County.
The ethane “cracker” facility will support the production of the plastics, solvents, coatings, rubbers and waxes we use every day. Other products, from food packaging to auto parts, will also be supported from the more than 1.5 million tons of polyethylene the plant will produce each year.
The plant brings with it thousands of new jobs, both in construction and permanent positions. Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald says the building of the plant is equivalent to the construction of 25 new baseball or football stadiums. Allegheny Conference CEO Dennis Yablonsky calls it “the largest single ‘from the ground up’ industrial investment in the Pittsburgh region in a generation.”
The future of the safe and responsible development and use of Pennsylvania’s abundant natural gas is bright. Sensible tax policy, reasonable regulation, increased demand and pipeline development are four vital keys to our future prosperity.