Mike Butler

is the executive director of Consumer Energy Alliance Mid-Atlantic

The Philadelphia Energy Action Team, organized by the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, recently said in a 60-page analysis that there's only one way Pennsylvania can make Philadelphia the next mega U.S. energy hub: Get more pipelines in the ground, from one end of the state to another.

I can't argue with that.

Neither, I'm sure, could many of my colleagues on Gov. Wolf's Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force, which recently wrapped up a comprehensive report of its own outlining the importance of pipeline infrastructure and how to safely get the ball rolling on building more - with all of shale's consumer benefits and environmental-friendly bells and whistles included.

But as both reports pointed out, there's a problem.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), production in the Marcellus and Utica areas has grown to 12 billion cubic feet per day since 2011, accounting for 89 percent of the nation's total growth in natural gas production.

This suggests that the days of Pennsylvanians having to rely on natural gas from other states to meet their daily energy needs may be gone for good, provided we have the pipeline capacity we need.

Unfortunately, we don't.

The EIA says there is still insufficient "takeaway capacity" in the Appalachian region, even as several important pipeline projects come online, boosting natural gas production 18 percent higher than a year ago.

That's because infrastructure projects traditionally have longer lead times than production projects do, particularly in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, and capacity has been insufficient to move natural gas to demand centers and export locations.

That means all those long-sought-after economic bells and whistles - and those accompanying under-the-radar, cleaner-burning environmental benefits - are not ringing to the tune that they should be.

And it's about time we do something about it, says State Sen. John Yudichak (D., Carbon). "We have yet to fully leverage our extensive energy reserves for short- and long-term economic development," Yudichak recently wrote in a letter to Kimberly D. Bose, secretary of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. "This is why I feel it is so important to invest in the development of our natural gas infrastructure."

But how?

That's why the pipeline task force was created. Knowing that pipelines are the safest way to transport energy, Wolf assembled 48 experts from the energy sector, environmental community, and academia to create a list of recommendations that would help "achieve responsible development of natural gas pipeline infrastructure in the commonwealth."

Seven meetings, 12 working groups, and about 1,500 public comments later, we did just that.

In all, we made 184 suggestions, plus 12 recommendations, on how to implement best practices, not just in pipe sitting and streamlining the permit process, but also in improving safety, enhancing environmental protection, and expanding community engagement. Each one differs on how it will be implemented. Some will require regulatory changes or new legislation. Others will demand that industry volunteer more and better engage local communities early and often.

None of the suggestions or recommendations will be easy to implement. Decisive, strategic action will need to be taken, by everyone - legislators, industry, nonprofits, academia, even you and me, in our backyards and in our neighbors'. It must be a team effort.

But together, we can do it.

Thanks to boosts in natural gas production and the state's storied tradition in balancing environmental protections with economic needs, job creation is up, emissions are down, and more businesses are moving in. Local government coffers have also gotten a much-needed shot in the arm, which has helped fund local schools and pay for road repairs. The days of $4-per-gallon gasoline, sky-high utility bills, and propane shortages are happily a distant memory.

And maintaining that all-important, all-of-the-above energy equilibrium is the only way to keep it going - that, and by getting some badly needed new pipelines in the ground.

mbutler@consumerenergyalliance.org