During my tenure as a state representative, I have heard countless claims that energy production and job creation conflict with environmental protection. Skeptics claim we must choose between a cleaner environment or economic growth, but the district I represent is proof that the skeptics are wrong. Energy production, job creation and environmental protection can be accomplished simultaneously.
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 their tables. 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, which is squarely in the middle of the Marcellus Shale play, companies are extracting natural gas from beneath our feet. The industry has brought with it economic activity that our region hasn’t seen in decades. Job opportunities for blue collar workers, professionals and entrepreneurs has been exponential. Whether it is a restaurant providing catering for workers on gas pads, a security firm ensuring safety on-site, or a service company lending equipment for drilling 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 building of the Shell plant 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 plant 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 which had a pollution problem. In fact, 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.
The Shell project 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 and achieve energy security and environmental progress simultaneously.
That’s why natural gas exploration and production should be celebrated. Adding additional burdens to the industry, such as an additional severance tax, will only detract further investment and ultimately progress for our Commonwealth. I grew up in western Pennsylvania with six siblings. Many of them left home due to lack of opportunity. As a legislator and father of seven children myself, my goal is to facilitate an economic environment where generations of families can thrive and pursue their dreams to the fullest. The natural gas industry can and does provide that type of transformative opportunity.
Representative Joshua Kail represents Pennsylvania’s 15th House District, which comprises parts of Beaver and Washington counties.