Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry faces an existential threat if Joe Biden and Democrats sweep into office in the Nov. 3 election, Trump administration officials and supporters told a Marcellus Shale Coalition conference on Tuesday.
U.S. Energy Secretary Daniel Brouillette and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), speaking at a conference sponsored by the industry trade group, warned of job losses, energy shortages, price increases, and an erosion of national security if climate activists succeed in banning fracking and in curtailing the development of fossil fuel resources and infrastructure, such as pipelines.
“Joe Biden has simply followed along with the left-wing extremists and their hostility to even the cleanest burning of all fossil fuels,” Toomey told the annual Shale Insight conference, with 500 registrants and conducted online this year to comply with coronavirus pandemic restrictions.
“President Trump and Republicans in Congress support affordable, reliable, clean natural gas, and Democrats view the curtailing and eventual elimination of the entire industry as a central part of their energy strategy, a cog in their effort to totally reshape the American economy. Of course, it would devastate the American economy.”
Toomey also repeated a Republican allegation that Biden has called for a full ban on hydraulic fracturing, which Biden has called a lie, though the Democrat supports a ban on the controversial oil and gas extraction method on federal lands.
Pennsylvania produced a record 6.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas from shale wells in 2019, an increase of 11.4% from 2018. Although the number of wells drilled is actually down, the wells are bigger, more efficient, and capture more gas than they did a few years ago.
Brouillette, who succeeded Rick Perry in December as President Donald Trump’s energy secretary, was less overtly political, referring to neither Biden nor Democrats in his prerecorded address.
But Brouillette said that in order to continue the revival of the American oil and gas industry, which has generated millions of jobs and lowered energy costs in the decade since fracking has taken off, “we must firmly oppose” those who would curtail or ban the development of fossil fuels. “I’m talking about proposals to wipe out every form of energy besides renewables,” he said.
“Now, in order to counter these ideas effectively, it’s imperative that we understand the mindset of those who are proposing them,” Brouillette said. “They continue to operate from a mindset of scarcity rather than abundance, and from radicalism as opposed to reality.”
The public officials spoke to a receptive online audience — about 500 people registered — since the shale industry’s affinity with Republicans is no secret, as Trump himself was the keynote speaker at two previous Shale Insight conferences. But their calls to action highlighted the chasm in the political debate over energy policy, and the importance that climate issues have taken on.
Environmental activists have denounced fossil fuels as the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions, and say time is running out to achieve carbon neutrality. But the shale industry contends that the nation cannot quickly ween itself of oil, gas, and coal — fossil fuels account for 80% of America’s energy needs — without serious economic disruption.
Shale advocates have played up those differences between environmentalists and industry advocates to frighten people who earn their living from fossil fuel, especially in Pennsylvania, which has become the nation’s second-largest natural gas producer since the shale-gas industry took hold in 2009.
Brouillette cited a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report last year that estimated a ban on fracking would eliminate 19 million jobs by 2025, including 600,000 jobs in Pennsylvania, and would cause natural gas prices to triple, household energy costs to quadruple, and the price of gasoline to double.
Green energy advocates cite other studies that say a transition to clean energy would generate more jobs and do less damage to the environment than staying the course. But Brouillette dismissed those arguments. “No amount of so-called green transition is going to mitigate that disaster.”
Brouillette also cited efforts at state and local levels by green energy advocates to block fossil fuel infrastructure development and give preference to renewable energy as causing higher electricity prices in energy-constrained regions — 46% higher than the national average in California, and 60% higher in New England.
Because New York has blocked pipeline expansions that would take more Pennsylvania natural gas to Massachusetts, he said, New England states have become more reliant on liquefied natural gas imported by ship, including one infamous shipment in 2018 of Russian LNG that arrived despite economic sanctions on such imports.
“Now imagine if the entire nation adopted such policies,” Brouillette said.