Consumer Energy Alliance Mid-Atlantic Director Mike Butler penned an opinion piece for the Shale Reporter about Beaver County, PA, energy politics in the region and the impact of shale energy development on the local economy.

Even before Beaver County, Pa. became nationally known from Shell’s announcement to build a proposed $2.5 billion cracker plant in Potter Township, energy has been an integral part of the county’s history and economy. In fact, in many ways the county stands out in the ongoing national energy debate and provides a case study for national trends in energy production, consumption and transportation.

Beaver County was at the center of early 20th century America’s industrial renaissance with its coal production and Ohio River steel mills. In 1957, Beaver County became the birthplace of commercial nuclear power.

 Like the rest of the nation, Beaver County was hit hard by the collapse of America’s traditional manufacturing might. Yet it has remained an important center of commerce with its nuclear power plant and Conway Rail Yard – the second largest rail yard in the U.S. In Shippingport, the nation’s birthplace of commercial nuclear energy generation, the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station generates enough electricity to power 1 million homes daily and is one of the county’s largest employers.
Now Beaver County may once again be at the epicenter of an American economic transformation.

With energy production serving as one of the fastest-growing industries and an engine for economic growth in the U.S., there is great opportunity ahead for the area. In addition to a number of local projects, all eyes have been focused on the construction of the proposed ethane cracker in the county. While still under review, that undertaking will be a major economic catalyst for the region since it would help to create a market for the state’s natural gas and provide numerous jobs.

Beaver County has already seen its share of economic upside from the early plays with Marcellus Shale production, such as county revenue from Pennsylvania’s Act 13 funding. In addition to leasing activity in the area providing tens of thousands of dollars to property owners, the area has seen a number of indirect benefits, such as increased demand at the Conway Rail Yard.

Fortunately, this economic activity has potential to reverse decades of decline in old mill cities, such as Aliquippa and Ambridge, as well as accelerate growth in places like Chippewa.

Beaver County’s assets in terms of geography, transportation and existing industrial infrastructure make investment attractive for multi-billion-dollar companies like Shell. Beaver’s industrial legacy, combined with workforce development and education, can ensure a strong and able local labor force in the region.

Outside of shale development, the county’s present energy activity and future outlook also connects to the larger national story. It has been at the forefront of the state launching its renewables program. With its thriving and diverse energy and transportation sectors, the county boasts a broad and robust national strategy that includes coal, natural gas, nuclear and renewable energy components.

Concurrent with a fierce national debate over energy policy in this election year, State Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-38) has introduced a bill, on the heels of the Pennsylvania Democrats’ platform, calling for a moratorium on shale production in the state.

With Beaver County and the state of Pennsylvania uniquely positioned for economic growth for many future generations, a number of public officials in Pennsylvania have spoken out against this legislation and potential fracking bans or moratoriums. This political fight has significant ramifications for Beaver County and the country. And we will only continue to see this unfold in local, state and national elections this year.

Arguably, what happens here in Beaver County might set the tenor and tone for this national debate. With this in mind, CEA intends to report on both the national and local energy stories, with a focus on the nexus of energy policy and politics, to help generate a balanced energy policy discussion here on Shale Reporter. With a new take on former House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s famous axiom “all politics are local,” CEA looks forward to discussing why in Beaver County all energy politics are national.