So much for working toward America’s “energy independence.”
Natural gas pulled from below Pennsylvania’s state forests and privately owned lands might soon get siphoned to a Maryland port, then shipped – not to markets in the nation’s heartland, but instead – overseas. Initial recipients are said to include Japan and India, but in this multibillion-dollar industry, it’s not difficult to imagine the Keystone State’s resources going to the highest bidder, no matter where. Presumably, to whichever government has the most yen for it.
The international exporting of coveted fuel from places such as Susquehanna County could begin by 2017.
On Monday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave its preliminary blessing to Dominion Energy’s planned liquefied natural gas terminal in Calvert County, Maryland, the first such facility on the East Coast. Three other export terminals have received the go-ahead in the Gulf of Mexico.
Diane Leopold, president of Virginia-based Dominion Energy, praised this week’s decision, noting the terminal project’s “economic, environmental and geopolitical benefits.”
Uh-huh. That sounds swell, but it sure seems as if Pennsylvania gets only the short end of this stick.
The good-old boys from Oklahoma and Texas who crisscrossed our state’s Northern Tier in the early days of the Marcellus Shale gas boom never spent much time talking to Towanda-area residents about “geopolitical benefits.” They foretold of plentiful jobs in the yet-undeveloped gas fields and said Pennsylvanians could expect to see their home heating prices go down.
Already, some U.S. manufacturers have spoken out against liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports, suggesting they will eventually drive up domestic prices.
Wouldn’t the nation fair better, they ask, by using its natural gas bounty to power our vehicles and boost U.S. manufacturing, then sell American-made products, instead of raw materials, to the world?
The lack of a cohesive energy policy in the United States today is evident from coast to coast. In North Dakota, oil producers deem natural gas a waste product and simply burn it on site, essentially sending money up in smoke. Meanwhile, we collectively debate whether to allow the Keystone XL Pipeline to cross our northern border and simultaneously watch as plans are made on the East Coast to super-cool natural gas and send it by boat to foreign lands.
Making matters more maddening, Pennsylvania’s lawmakers fell so far behind on the Marcellus Shale situation from the outset, they might never have a handle on it.
As recently as Wednesday, during a public hearing in Wilkes-Barre, state Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, said, “We were not prepared for the boom in the Marcellus Shale.”
• Years after the drilling technique known as fracking opened up swaths of Pennsylvania to intensive natural gas development, the state still has no registry to track health complaints related to the industry’s potential air and water contamination. (Yudichak and certain cohorts support Senate Bill 790, which proposes state monitoring to be paid for with $3 million annually from an impact fee already charged to drillers.)
• The state Department of Environmental Protection struggles to keep pace with inspections of well sites and enforcement.
• The state doesn’t collect a severance tax from drilling companies on par with what other gas-producing states have established.
Opponents of Dominion Energy’s export terminal have vowed to stop it. Don’t bank on that.
Unless there’s a significant shift in public attitudes among more Pennsylvanians and other East Coast residents, the natural gas companies will get what they want, when and where they want it.