Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley: Pa. Should Rejoice Over Natural Gas Production

Jim Cawley
Allentown Morning Call

Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal recently issued a sober warning to his government that “rising North American shale gas production is an inevitable threat” to the economy of Saudi Arabia.

He has reason to worry.

Saudi oil exports to the United States have declined, as have exports from Algeria and Nigeria. We are finally curbing our appetite for foreign oil and nearing the energy independence that for decades seemed more of a slogan than possibility.

Our natural gas resources are so abundant that the prices of oil and natural gas have become decoupled. Time was when a jump in oil prices meant a corresponding rise in natural gas. Not so today. Petroleum is selling at twice what it cost a decade ago. Natural gas prices have fallen by half.

Already, companies and transit agencies are switching to natural gas engines. Secondary market companies are selling kits to convert private autos. Electric companies are meeting rising energy demands and yet lowering prices, as they convert to clean-burning natural gas.

And people are working, in family-sustaining, steady jobs as the economic growth ripples from the gas fields of Bradford County to the office parks of Philadelphia. To date, the gas industry has created more than 30,000 direct jobs with an average wage of $82,000 a year, along with another 214,000 people employed in ancillary and related industries.

No sooner had the Marcellus shale gas play begun than Gov. Tom Corbett saw the potential for our state, our economy and our environment. But he wanted to get it right.

So Gov. Corbett formed an advisory commission of experts from industry, government and environmental organizations, and he asked me to chair the group.

Two years ago, the commission issued a comprehensive report with 96 separate recommendations to develop natural gas safely, responsibly, and for the social and economic benefit of all Pennsylvanians.

With bipartisan support, that advisory report became the basis for Act 13, a historic law that still serves as the national model for how to protect the environment while realizing the economic and energy benefits of shale development.

Consider this: Over the last two years, the administration has doubled oversight by the Department of Environmental Protection, and we have strengthened well construction standards, tightened wastewater treatment standards and expanded protections for drinking water around the state.

We also have one of the most transparent chemical disclosure laws in the nation. Under Act 13, we became the second state in the nation to mandate that health care providers be given access to chemical disclosure information to share with their patients.

Then there is the benefit of the new revenues generated by Act 13.

The impact fee created under the new law has, to date, provided more than $406 million, most of which go to local communities across the state, to build roads and bridges, improve public water supplies and enhance emergency services, to name a few benefits.

And electricity rates are now half of what they were in 2008.

It is not an overstatement to say that the Marcellus industry, and the leadership shown by Gov. Corbett, are helping to transform our state and our nation, opening the doors of opportunity for generations to come.

The Saudis have good reason to worry. Pennsylvanians have good reason to rejoice.