I am not a cheerleader for the natural gas industry. I expect the people there to be the professionals they are. I expect them to be the good corporate citizens they are.

I am a cheerleader for us, for Southwestern Pennsylvania and for the United States. If you love America, Pennsylvania and us, you must support the industry that is going to develop and sustain our future. America’s balance of trade in natural gas liquids is improving dramatically, which is good news for us.

I also am a big cheerleader for the use of renewables as part of the equation to generate electricity. But wind and solar cannot sustain us alone. They’re still expected to provide less than one-third of all electricity 30 years from now.

Natural gas must be part of the energy equation. Whether it is natural gas, windmills or solar panels, our infrastructure must be addressed.

Our nation’s future hinges on energy independence. Global economic and natural security questions are driven by it. Businesses nationwide are keeping a close eye on what is happening in the energy sector. That means they are watching us. We are at the very heart of the American quest for energy independence.

The shale revolution in the United States is not an accident. Right here in Greene and Washington counties, we are helping to drive the global economy and secure our nation’s future. The natural gas industry, upstream development, midstream processing and pipelines, and downstream refining depend on infrastructure expansion to create access to global markets. What does this infrastructure look like?

By now, everyone has heard about Royal Dutch Shell’s $6 billion petrochemical plant in Beaver County. This state-of-the-art ethane cracker will have the capacity to produce 1.5 metric tons of ethane output annually. A cracker plant takes gas and breaks it into smaller molecules to create ethylene, which is used in plastics manufacturing.

This is easily the largest construction project in the region, and it is one of the largest in the nation. And with the downstream opportunities it creates, it is a leading economic driver in the region.

Did you know that along our most important infrastructure, the Monongahela River, there is a $2.7 billion construction project underway that is impacting our region? The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expanding capacity, replacing lock systems in Charleroi and Braddock, and eliminating the Elizabeth lock.

This project will greatly enhance the navigability of our river and accommodate increased commercial and industrial barge traffic. Site selectors working with Shell chose the Potter Township site largely because of its direct access to Ohio River.

Infrastructure – pipeline, highway, rail or river – is crucial to move our most abundant resource, natural gas, to meet the nation’s demand. Pipelines running through Greene and Washington counties will help move the product to market, enhance downstream industries and make our region a global economic powerhouse.

The pipeline and infrastructure projects underway and planned in the region will help foster development across the Appalachian Basin.

In our region, economic development is defined is simple terms: job creation. When manufacturing comes here to be close to our natural gas feedstock, and access to our rivers, that industry will need people. What are we doing about job growth?

In Greene County, for example, the United Mine Workers of America Career Center is helping to maintain a highly skilled workforce. So are the 20-plus regional trades that are offering joint apprenticeship programs.

We must be cheerleaders for our region, and each other. When a company locates a facility in Greene County, that benefits Washington County as well, and vice-versa. We must be cheerleaders for the industries that are working with us to create jobs and opportunities. Together, we are better.

Jamie Protin is founder and principal of The Protin Group in Belle Vernon.

To submit business-related columns, email Rick Shrum at rshrum@observer-reporter.com.

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