Energy Secretary Sees Region's Plastics Industry as Critical

 | Pittsburgh Business Times | Sept 23 2020

U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette grew up along the Gulf Coast and knows well the petrochemical industry. And he sees what’s happening here in Appalachia with the development of Shell's petrochemical plant in Beaver County as crucial to the nation’s energy future.

Brouillette was in the Pittsburgh region earlier this week to visit the Shell petrochemical plant and other stops, including a forum on the use of artificial intelligence at Carnegie Mellon University. He said the Shell plant is an example of the finest technology in plastics manufacturing and that the Shell plant and potential other petrochemical plants in the region play a key role in the transition from coal to natural gas or from a gas-fueled engine to an electric vehicle.

“The common denominator in each one of these technologies is polymers and plastics,” Brouillette said. “To see this type of capacity built in Pennsylvania, it’s just amazing to me, and it makes so much sense in the world.”

He said southwestern Pennsylvania’s access to markets for the plastics industry — including automakers — is a big benefit.

“The competitive aspects of this particular facility is just enormous, and I think they’re going to do well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see competitors to Shell show up in the very near future,” Brouillette said.

Brouillette and the Energy Department last week hosted a summit that brought together domestic and international natural gas producers with the economic opportunities in the industry. Top executives in the field, including Richard Weber of Pittsburgh-based PennEnergy Resources, told Brouillette that the gas industry needs the government’s help to push through pipeline and other infrastructure projects that have seen stiff opposition from environmentalists and neighbors. One of those projects, the Mountain Valley Pipeline, is a $5 billion pipeline owned by a Pittsburgh-based company that will take Marcellus and Utica shale gas to markets in the southeastern states.

Brouillette said he believed strongly in infrastructure development because he started his career as a welder’s helper and a pipeline welder. He added that the jobs that pipeline and infrastructure building create are an important lifeline for the middle class.

“I’m not going to stand around and let the activists deny this infrastructure going forward because, as I pointed out, it’s so critical to our economic development and energy security,” he said.

In a separate interview this week, White House Trade Advisor Peter Navarro praised the Trump administration’s trade and energy policies as lifting up the fortunes of Pennsylvania.

“Without those (steel) tariffs, we would have seen a significant decline of the steel industry,” Navarro said. “Instead, we’ve had significant investment, and we’ve been able to hold on our market share as a country.”

And he said the Trump administration’s energy policy protected 300,000 jobs in the oil and natural gas industry, as well as the royalties for residents.

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