During my tenure as a state representative, I have heard countless claims that energy production and job creation conflict with environmental protection. Skeptics say we must choose between a cleaner environment or economic growth. As a result of these false claims, the natural gas industry is under constant attack in Harrisburg and at the national level. The truth is the energy industry provides countless benefits. By celebrating and promoting energy production, Pennsylvania can have a cleaner environment, more jobs, and become a world leader in energy and manufacturing.
My district is proof that the skeptics are wrong. In the 1980s, the unemployment rate in Beaver County climbed to more than 25 percent. Parents, who had just gotten laid off from the steel mills, had to go work for minimum wage at a gas station to put food on the table. Our families and communities struggled, and many of our children left home for better opportunities.
Today, Beaver County looks much different. Throughout my entire district, companies are extracting natural gas from beneath our feet. The industry has brought with it economic activity our region hasn’t seen in decades. Job opportunities for blue-collar workers, professionals, and entrepreneurs have been exponential. Whether it is a restaurant providing catering for workers on gas pads, a security firm ensuring on-site safety, or a service company lending equipment for the operations, the natural gas industry has boosted small businesses of every kind.
But it didn’t stop there. In the northern part of my district, Royal Dutch Shell decided to invest $8 billion in a manufacturing facility that uses natural gas feedstock to create plastic pellets, which are then sent to customers who manufacture all sorts of goods. The Shell plant being built is the largest construction project in North America (possibly the world). More than 8,000 blue-collar building trade union members are currently constructing the facility. Rank-and-file members, with overtime, are making six-figure salaries. Foremen are being paid $150,000. Beaver County has gone from having four hotels to 31 hotels in the last 10 years because of the investment. Small businesses are putting up their best years on record because of the influx of capital into the area.
The Shell project didn’t come without tremendous benefit to our environment as well. Before Shell came to Beaver County, there was a smelter plant on that site that had such a pollution problem, The New York Times ran an article on the environmental hazards it created. Shell bought the plant and cleaned up a site with nearly a century’s worth of heavy metal impacts.
Pennsylvania’s industrial history left behind problematic environmental situations that only robust private sector investment can fix. There are similar environmentally hazardous brownfield sites across the state. The new wave of manufacturing due to the natural gas industry offers hope of environmental progress for communities beyond Beaver County.
Energy independence plays a critical role in our economy and environment as well. What good is it for our planet if energy and manufacturing jobs stay in places like China and India? I remind environmental justice warriors who contact me often that China has little-to-no environmental regulations. Demand for natural gas manufacturing globally is not going anywhere, so we have two options: We can drive jobs to China and see world emissions continue to skyrocket, or we can create a pro-jobs economy in Pennsylvania, improve our global security, and improve our environment globally.
The Shell project in my district stands as a shining example to skeptics that you can be pro-energy and pro-environment. I am a firm believer that we can create more jobs here, protect our environment, and achieve energy independence simultaneously.
Rep. Joshua Kail is a Republican representing Beaver and Washington counties. He wrote this for Delaware Valley Journal.