Energy industry tells lawmakers natural gas vital to Pa., U.S.

Representatives from the state’s oil, gas and manufacturing industries told a Pennsylvania House of Representatives hearing that expansion of energy production was critical to keeping the United States free from foreign entanglements and pressure caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as well as the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Reshoring and manufacturing and reconsidering global supply chains have taken on a new urgency,” said Stephanie Catarino Wissman, executive director of API Pennsylvania. “We have the resources to manufacture these and hundreds of other products right here in Pennsylvania. Rather than sending our jobs and our industries overseas, we should be encouraging that development here.”

Monday morning’s hearing of the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee was convened by state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, who said he wanted to have a forum during the committee meeting that would highlight the many ways that natural gas and natural gas liquids like ethane, butane and propane are used in modern life. Metcalfe said he didn’t think the general public understood how widespread the use of fossil fuel products is.

“Everybody doesn’t even know that you have to raise a cow to get a steak or slaughter a pig or a chicken to get those meats on your table,” Metcalfe said.

The services products made from natural gas and plastics, for instance, are vast, whether it’s to heat homes or create electricity or in medical products like syringes, surgical instruments and masks to plastics products and even in auto tires and asphalt.

“It’s thousands and thousands of products that are manufactured from these foundational building blocks,” said Abby Foster, president of the Pennsylvania Chemical Industry Council.

A large and new plastics manufacturing player will be the Shell Polymers plant that has been built over the last decade in Potter Township, Beaver County. Shell will likely begin operation later this year. David Callahan, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, noted what he called the monumental impact of the plant not just for southwestern Pennsylvania but the entire commonwealth. The building block of plastics come from ethane, a natural gas liquid derived from natural gas drilling and will be processed at Shell into polyethylene.

“These natural gas liquids have very unique uses, very broad uses. These NGLs are an important source of building blocks for the products that make modern life possible,” Callahan said.

David Taylor, president of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, said the impact of higher energy prices spreads throughout the economy.

“Higher energy cost totals up to much higher costs for finished goods,” Taylor said.

Taylor said policymakers in Pennsylvania and the United States should maximize energy production and manufacturing, with a big role using Pennsylvania’s natural gas assets.

Foster said that the energy and chemical industries are intertwined, especially in the United States, which uses NGLs as feedstocks as well as heat and electricity for the industrial process. She said being able to use natural gas derived from Pennsylvania and elsewhere allows costs to be lower than they would be if they depended on the world oil market.

Several speakers and legislators spoke about Russian’s invasion of Ukraine, and western Europe’s ties via natural gas to Russia that are taking a long time and a lot of effort to untangle.

“Energy is security and it’s never more clear than what has occurred over the last month,” said Dan Weaver, president of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association.

But state Rep. Greg Vitali, the Democratic chair of the committee, said he didn’t think some comments that had been made during the hearing — comparing life today with fossil fuels to a time before they were discovered — was appropriate.

“Isn’t this a false choice we’re creating, expand or maintain fossil fuels, or live like colonists,” Vitali said.

Taylor, in response, noted that China was about to bring online large amounts of coal-fired power plants whose carbon emissions would erase the many environmental gains that had been done in the United States with the switch from coal- and oil-fired power plants. He said that the United States had much better environmental laws than China that wouldn’t add to global emissions like it would otherwise.

API’s Wissman said policymakers should ensure a statutory and regulatory framework that fosters economic development while at the same time protecting the environment.

“We need to maintain a level playing field that encourages innovation in all technology, including natural gas and oil,” Wissman said.

Author: Paul J. Gough, Pittsburgh Business Times
Publication: Pittsburgh Business Times
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