Op-ed: Building Our Energy Infrastructure

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| Observer Reporter

Pennsylvania has always been an energy powerhouse. The first domestic oil well was drilled in Titusville in 1859. Our coal deposits helped us win world wars, forge iron into steel and power an economic transformation that continues to lead the world economy. Our state remains a national leader with the robust Marcellus and Utica shale reserves in Western Pennsylvania.

According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Pennsylvania’s natural gas production reached nearly 7 trillion cubic feet in 2019, which ranks us second behind Texas in the nation. And reserve discoveries are still occurring. In 2018, operators reportedly found another 14 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in western parts of Pennsylvania alone.

Also, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection found in its annual report, the 6.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas produced in 2019 was its largest volume in a single year-to-date recording, proving drillers are operating more efficiently to maximize production from fewer wells, which helps to reduce the footprint of operations and preserve our local environment.

Natural gas is clearly the leader for the state’s energy consumption, outpacing coal and nuclear by 57% and 42 %, respectively. However, our production and utilization of this tremendous resource is negated if we cannot transport it to market. To accomplish this, we must invest in our energy infrastructure.

Pennsylvania must devote more to the development of pipeline infrastructure to attain the full benefits of our vast energy resources. Getting this gas to market safely through a network of state-of-the-art pipelines is key to sustained growth – – not just for Pennsylvania, but for all the states that rely on the energy we produce. Fortunately, there is already some good news on this front.

In the coming months, we should expect the Mariner East pipeline network, which runs across Pennsylvania, to be complete and fully operational, providing a key west-to-east energy highway to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex in southeastern Pennsylvania for processing and use. The pipeline provides a global market for the natural gas we produce in our region.

In addition, the Revolution Pipeline system in western Pennsylvania is moving forward and once completed, will provide local developers with increased access to markets. Both Mariner East and Revolution run through Washington County.

New opportunities are on the horizon as well. Shell’s ethane cracker plant in Beaver County is about 70 percent complete, and it offers the potential and opportunities for spinoff manufacturing opportunities throughout western Pennsylvania and the tristate area. With Shell in the west and Marcus Hook in the east, our state is firmly strategically positioned and strongly poised to capitalize on these resources provided we have the energy infrastructure to deliver them.

Increased production has also helped consumers. The reality is that abundant, affordable natural gas saved Pennsylvania consumers more than $32.1 billion from 2008-2018. Residential users alone saved almost $13.8 billion. Based on current population estimates, that equals to more than $1,077 per citizen. Pennsylvania’s small businesses and commercial users saved more than $18.3 billion. Savings like these bring real relief to Pennsylvania’s families and keep the state’s industries competitive and its jobs abundant.

Natural gas has transformed our economy over the past two decades and we will continue to recognize these benefits into the future. However, the full potential of this generational opportunity will only be realized by the continued investment in our infrastructure network and the return on that investment with additional jobs, increased commerce and lower energy bills for consumers and businesses.

Jeff M. Kotula is president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Promotion Agency.

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