Shale talk photo

Rick Shrum/Observer-Reporter

Craig Stevens, left, makes a point while speaking on a panel with Earl Baker, state Sen. Camera Bartolotta and Brigham McCown.

Pipelines, which transport oil and gas – and ill will – across great distances, got a lot of love at the Hilton Garden Inn Southpointe on Monday morning.

“Pipelines are the safest and most efficient means of transporting these resources,” state Sen. Camera Bartolotta said in kicking off a panel discussion among national energy and infrastructure experts and elected officials.

“They’re also the least expensive means,” Brigham McCown added.

Bartolotta, R-Carroll Township, and McCown were among a foursome who spearheaded “Growing the Marcellus Shale: How Safe Pipeline Infrastructure Delivers Energy to Consumers in Pennsylvania and Allies Abroad.”

The program focused on these underground vessels of transmission, which proponents maintain are vital to energy security, but which spark protests from activists, lawsuits, delays and concerns about safe construction of the lines.

There have been safety issues, to be sure, in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Yet, the panelists maintain that pipelines have been around for a while, transport oil and gas much cheaper and faster than trucks, trains and ships, and operate safely for the most part. These lines send gas hundreds of miles, to be used domestically or transmitted to ships for use in other nations.

“Two-thirds of our energy comes through pipelines and that’s been happening for over 100 years,” said McCown, the first leader of the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. “There is a risk in everything we do. This is not about absence of risk, but risk management. Blocking pipelines doesn’t enhance safety, it undermines it.”

“We’re seeing fights all over the country on pipelines,” said Craig Stevens, who worked in the Department of Energy during the George W. Bush presidency. “From our side, we always have to be perfect.”

Stevens, McCown and Earl Baker represented Grow America’s Infrastructure Now at the event. GAIN is a coalition of businesses, trade associations and labor groups, and Bartolotta joined them on the dais for a discussion organized by the Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

Baker, an oft-elected public official in eastern Pennsylvania, said natural gas has helped to transform the commonwealth. “Instead of thinking of this as a Rust Belt state,” he said, “people should think of Pennsylvania as an energy leader in the nation and the world. You have a safe, reliable form of energy that has to be transported.”

Three states – New York, Maryland and Vermont – have banned fracking, and natural gas pipelines don’t serve certain parts of the nation. The panelists lamented these issues.

“We have a problem if Boston is importing natural gas from Russia,” McCown said.

Stevens said, “It’s stunning there is no new energy infrastructure in New York state. It’s a real tragedy there.”

Bartolotta, co-chair of the Senate Gas and Oil Caucus, is bullish on natural gas, which is abundant in the Marcellus and Utica shale plays in the region. She also is enamored of the possibilities the Shell petrochemical cracker plant, which is being built in Beaver County, brings.

“We could not only be the Energy Capital of the East,” she said, “but the Petrochemical Capital.”

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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