Observer-Reporter | Shale insight: Economist says gas boom carrying U.S. recovery

PITTSBURGH – For nearly an hour, Stephen Moore expended a lot of energy speaking about energy and the economy – and their inextricable link.

“You cannot understand economics unless you understand energy,” he said in his opening. “The industry is carrying the rest of the U.S. on its shoulders. Without the energy boom going on, there would be no economic recovery at all.”

Moore is a chief economist for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research think tank from Washington, D.C. And his thoughts made an audience in the hundreds think Tuesday morning, as Shale Insight 2014 kicked off its two-day conference at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

This is the fourth annual Insight, and first conducted outside Philadelphia. It is organized by North Fayette Township-based Marcellus Shale Coalition, which supports oil and gas exploration companies and their supply chain partners in Marcellus Shale, the world’s largest natural gas deposit.

Moore previously was a reporter with the Wall Street Journal, and was the keynote speaker Tuesday. MSC President Dave Spigelmyer opened the conference with remarks, followed by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, then Moore.

Fitzgerald, who helped bring natural gas drilling to Pittsburgh International Airport and Deer Lakes Park, got a charge from the audience when he compared the region’s energy environment to a topic that is electric: the Pirates’ clinching of a playoff berth 10 hours earlier.

“The Pirates struggled for 20 years, kind of like Pittsburgh. Well, the Pirates are doing well and so is Pittsburgh. We’re seeing a Pittsburgh renaissance, a Pittsburgh resurgence, and shale gas is a key to that.”

Speaking quickly, enthusiastically – and punctuating his points with biting humor – Moore had the rapt attention of attendees. He jabbed political figures in general and President Barack Obama in particular on the central theme.

“Five or six years ago, so many politicians had this wrong,” Moore said. “Nobody saw this energy boom coming. This energy revolution is an incredible tribute to technology and our entrepreneurial spirit. We’re at the big stage of this boom.”

He lamented that the nation spends nearly $3 billion a year importing oil, “often from our enemies,” but that could change.

“If we get this right,” Moore said, “within six years the U.S. will be energy independent.”

And speaking of polticians getting it wrong … Moore said that during Obama’s first term, “the president would go around saying America is running out of gas. Mr. President, we were running into gas.”

Moore praised American industry – with a qualifier.

“It is an amazing retooling and re-engineering. American companies are now lean, mean fighting machines. The problem with the economy today is that companies are profitable, but not reinvesting. They fear what may happen.”

Dana Perino, White House press secretary during the George W. Bush administration, also addressed the audience for nearly an hour Tuesday morning. In a relaxed format, she and interviewer Scott Segal sat on the dais and discussed politics and energy – mostly international politics.

Perino now is a political commentator for Fox and co-host of “The Five” on that network. Segal is a founding partner of the Houston-Texas-based law firm Bracewell & Giuliani.

She said the exportation of natural gas from the United States could be integral in dealings with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“That means less hard currency for Vladimir Putin,” Perino said, “and if you want to stop Putin, limit his hard currency.”

Segal asked about the presidential election of 2016, and whether Hillary Clinton – an early Democratic Party favorite – would be a viable candidate.

“She gives every indication she would run,” Perino said. “But she is a really bad campaigner. If Hillary Clinton decides not to run, it will be a fun clown show to watch.”

Perino said “I don’t know who she will run against,” but speculated that Jeb Bush could be a Republican front-runner.

A number of regional companies and organizations were represented in the vast room next to the ballroom. Award-winning corporate posters and compressed natural gas vehicles were on display, and a number of enitites, including the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, had booths. After lunch, chamber President Jeff Kotula Jeff Kotula presented a new three-minute video, “Ten Years of Shale Success.”

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