HARRISBURG, Pa. — Republican Bill McSwain pledges to be a pro-energy governor by “turning on the natural gas tap.” Another hopeful, Dave White, says he wants Pennsylvania “to be the energy capital of the world.” A third candidate, Lou Barletta, says having a glut of natural gas in the ground without a pipeline is “like being in college and having a keg of beer without a tap.”
In Pennsylvania, the second-largest natural gas producer after Texas, the importance of the industry is emerging as one of the top issues among Republican gubernatorial candidates ahead of the May 17 primary.
The issue took on new urgency following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which reignited the debate over how to improve national energy production and prompted President Joe Biden to engage. to increase exports of liquefied natural gas to Europe to undermine Russia’s influence there.
Despite promises from Republican candidates, however, there are constraints on what they could do in office. Although governors have influence over state agencies and law-making, they have limited ability to grant what industry really wants, such as building interstate pipelines and large processing facilities. This is because other states and federal politics are involved.
“They don’t control these things,” said David Masur, executive director of PennEnvironment, a Philadelphia-based environmental group. “Their power, if elected, ends at the Pennsylvania border. And if other states have aggressive climate change programs, clean energy programs, the market makes clean energy competitive, if not cheaper, than fossil fuels.
Industry leaders describe drilling in Pennsylvania as strong and access to gas as abundant, with pipeline rights-of-way established and thousands of wells waiting to be drilled in the country’s most prolific gas reservoir. , the Marcellus Shale.
But for examples of Pennsylvania’s boundaries, look no further than its borders.
Democratic governors in neighboring New York and New Jersey have effectively blocked construction of major interstate pipelines — the Constitution and PennEast pipelines — carrying gas from Pennsylvania to major metropolitan areas and, possibly, facilities yet to come. build to liquefy and export liquefied natural gas or LNG.
States seem unlikely to change that position anytime soon.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who won re-election last year, ‘remains committed’ to his pledge to achieve 100% clean energy in the state and an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions greenhouses that will warm the planet by 2050, his office said.
Interstate pipelines and LNG facilities also require federal approval and face opposition from environmental groups, who say natural gas shouldn’t be a long-term energy solution because it emits the potent gas to methane greenhouse effect.
The industry and its Republican allies argue that natural gas can make the United States more energy independent and counter Russian influence, while being kinder to the planet than oil and stronger coal. carbon content.
Toby Rice, president and CEO of Pittsburgh-based gas exploration company EQT Corp., predicts it would take 6,500 miles (more than 10,400 km) of pipeline and $250 billion of infrastructure to LNG in the United States to serve the United States and Europe and dramatically reduce coal use worldwide by 2030.
Yet scientists are increasingly alarmed by the growing amount of natural gas infrastructure and say it will threaten efforts to cut carbon emissions to necessary targets.
The presumptive Democratic gubernatorial candidate, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, talks about balancing natural gas with renewable energy expansion.
Shapiro ran for attorney general promising to hold the gas industry accountable. He challenged President Donald Trump’s administration’s decision to allow LNG to be transported by rail, criminally indicted several companies and released a grand jury report on the need for tougher industry regulations. .
During his campaign for governor, he has taken a middle-of-the-road stance — in part a nod to influential unions whose workers build power plants, pipelines and refineries. He says it is a “false choice” to have to choose between “environmental justice and the dignity of labor and energy opportunity”.
The current governor, Democrat Tom Wolf, has what environmental activists and industry see as a mixed bag.
Wolf, whose duration is constitutionally limited, aims to make Pennsylvania the first major fossil fuel state to impose a carbon pricing plan, although its regulatory effort is currently stalled in court.
At the same time, he asked for higher taxes on natural gas production, but missed significant opportunities to tackle greenhouse gases, environmental advocates say.
He’s also committed to industry: his administration has issued permits for large gas-fired power plants, pipelines and refineries, and Wolf himself has signed tax breaks to attract natural gas synthesis plants. .
Today, interest in building large natural gas-fired projects is growing, and a new governor could take office in 2023 with the possibility of landing one.
Keeping Biden’s promises to increase natural gas exports to Europe could mean expanding existing pipelines through Pennsylvania and building new LNG terminals, perhaps along the Delaware River near Philadelphia.
“We believe there is an opportunity for Pennsylvania to become a major LNG exporter,” Rice said.
Beyond LNG, industry boosters are optimistic about the landing of a gas-powered hydrogen plant — funded by Biden’s Infrastructure Act — in southwestern Pennsylvania, as well as building refineries in rural Pennsylvania gas fields to make fertilizers, chemicals and fuels.
Meanwhile, a proposed LNG facility in northeastern Pennsylvania that envisioned shipping its product by rail to a Philadelphia-area export terminal is on hold — and the Biden administration set to suspend Trump-era LNG-by-rail rule.
While a governor alone cannot give the gas industry what it wants, he or she could be helpful, industry advocates say.
Barletta, White, McSwain and others in the nine-person GOP core area for governor talk about scrapping unnecessary regulations or speeding up clearance times.
That could help attract a big deal, much like cutting Pennsylvania’s corporate tax rate, said Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.
Being a strong advocate could also help, such as lobbying a fellow governor of a neighboring state to authorize a pipeline, Barr said.
In recent days, Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled legislature passed a package of pro-industry measures, including a resolution urging the governors of New York and New Jersey to allow gas pipelines to be built from Pennsylvania.
During that debate, Democratic State Rep. Greg Vitali said the idea of a legislative resolution swaying those governors is “fantastic.”
“They’re going to make their own decisions about which pipelines they accept,” Vitali said, “and which pipelines they reject.”
Associated Press writer Michael Catalini in Trenton, New Jersey, contributed to this report.
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