(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 5/9/2014)
Nuclear disaster in Japan and aggression in Ukraine could be good for natural gas producers in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region. For Pennsylvania taxpayers, not so much.
Much of western and central Europe buys about a third of its natural gas from Russia. That’s a lot of countries wondering how they will cope if Russian President Vladimir Putin makes good on his threats to close the valve.
And, according to Bloomberg.com, Japan’s natural gas imports have increased 12 percent as it struggles to replace electricity lost when a tsunami took out the Fukushima nuclear generating plant. The island nation’s 54 reactors have been shut down pending safety checks, and there are predictions of widespread electricity shortages this summer.
“Increased natural gas production in the nation (United States) has increased supplies in the U.S., and producers are looking for ways to get their natural gas to markets,” reports Dominion, already a huge U.S. energy supplier, on its website. The company is poised to invest about $4 million in a natural gas export facility on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay.
The U.S. Department of Energy has stopped issuing export permits while it studies the effect on the nation’s consumers if companies such as Dominion, Exxon-Mobil, Shell and others are allowed to sell U.S.-produced natural gas to Europe, Japan and the rest of the planet.
Global strife spells profits for energy producers, compounding risk for inhabitants of the KeystoneState.
“We don’t have drilling, so it’s not an issue that’s a burning issue with the constituents that I personally represent,” state Rep. Sheryl Delozier, R-CumberlandCounty, said recently on “Face the State with Rob Hanrahan.”
It should be a burning issue. A web of pipelines is spreading across Pennsylvania to carry the product to export terminals along the Delaware River and Chesapeake Bay. A 42-inch pipe is planned to cross a portion of LebanonCounty, connecting existing lines in Lancaster and Schuylkill counties, and carrying Marcellus gas at 1,500 psi to customers and exporters along the East Coast.
In the recent past, oil-carrying pipes have broken, spilling their contents into homes and drinking water supplies. Oil-train crashes have destroyed whole towns. KeystoneState taxpayers still are paying to mitigate acid drainage from coal mines defunct for nearly a century.
Now is a good time to consider establishment of an extraction tax that would help adequately fund the state’s environmental agencies, and maybe even add to the state’s rumored emphasis on education of its future environmental protectors. Pennsylvania is the only major natural gas-producing state that does not exact such a tax.
“I believe that a lot of times when we are gonna talk about how this is gonna be an impact,” Delozier said, “we will not get that signed with the sitting governor (Tom Corbett, R-Marcellus) as it stands right now.”
Corbett, who received millions from the Marcellus industry to help him win his first term as governor, has so far remained firm on his promise – with the help of the state legislature – to not tax natural gas production.
But when environmental problems arise, and drinking water becomes undrinkable, and fracking-caused earthquakes damage or destroy buildings, the cost of repair will be presented to ALL the taxpayers – except the drillers, who will be gone, and the energy companies, which will deny fault.
Unfortunately, future environmental costs are not “a burning issue with the constituents” of Delozier and most other legislators who have no Marcellus drilling rigs in their back yards.
They should be.
Now, as world energy requirements appear about to offer huge profits to energy companies, is a great time to consider stacking some of those profits against statewide environmental needs the natural gas industry has, and will, help create.