The bipartisan co-chairs of Pennsylvania’s Senate Oil and Gas Caucus, not surprisingly, are bullish on the natural gas industry.

“This is vital because where my district sits is ‘Oil and Gas Central,’” Sen. Camera Bartolotta said.

She and Sen. John Blake, D-22nd District, were the featured speakers Thursday morning at the biweekly Breakfast Briefing hosted virtually by the Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

They discussed issues confronting an industry that, before the pandemic, was besieged by suppressed demand and low commodity prices – issues that since have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 invasion.

Bartolotta, R-Carroll Township, represents the 46th District, which encompasses most of Washington County, all of Greene County and part of Beaver County.

Washington was the second-largest producer of natural gas among Pennsylvania’s 67 counties in 2019, and the state was second nationwide in production, thanks to the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.

Her home turf differs from that of Blake, whose 22nd District comprises Lackawanna County and parts of Luzerne and Monroe counties.

“My district has no drilling,” he said, adding that the 22nd has a gas-fired power plant. It is near Scranton, which has a storied coal history.

Blake, who has a background in economic development, has become a natural gas proponent, to be sure.

Bartolotta acknowledged that the industry faces challenges, one of the “biggest” being a proposal to enact a tax on natural gas extraction in Pennsylvania. She is adamantly opposed to that on top of the Act 13 impact fee producers pay, revenue that goes to municipalities that host drilling.

“There is a false idea that the gas industry doesn’t pay what it should,” she said. “The gas industry pays an impact fee – it’s a tax. This industry has brought billions of dollars to our communities. Without the impact tax, our municipalities wouldn’t have things like fire trucks and playgrounds.”

Bartolotta also is opposed to Pennsylvania joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cooperative of 10 states that strives to limit and reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the power sector. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has supported joining RGGI.

“This would cost taxpayers and employers billions of dollars,” she said. “We’re providing energy. It’s the gas and oil industry that will bring Pennsylvania out of the pit it is in because of the pandemic, which has pushed the economy down.”

Both senators are calling for more buildout of infrastructure to support this industry, advocating a five- or 10-year plan by the government. A lack of pipelines, they agree, is a key element.

“What’s most frustrating,” Blake said, “is that we have one of the largest natural gas plays in the world and two-thirds of my district relies on propane and oil. We have this resource and we can’t access it.”

Pipeline construction has been a contentious issue in the state, because of spills and landslides. Bartolotta, however, said pipelines “are the absolute safest way to transport” resources, not by use of train or truck.

Blake and Bartolotta spoke a little more than two weeks after commissioners from Washington, Beaver and Butler counties sent a letter to both presidential candidates – President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden – expressing their support for the natural gas and oil industry.

Marcellus Shale Coalition president David Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, weighed in on the senators’ comments. He said in a prepared statement: “We appreciate (their) bipartisan efforts to broaden the economic and environmental benefits of natural gas. Pennsylvanians want affordable and reliable energy, job creation and clean air and water – and that’s what responsible natural gas development delivers.”

Business Writer

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won eight individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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