Pippy: Coal still a force in energy production

Posted September 1, 2012

By Michael Bradwell

Click the linked names below for their presentation from the symposium.

While natural gas continues to receive top billing for its abundance as a domestically produced fuel, John Pippy reminded people Friday that coal is still a formidable energy source here and internationally.

Pippy, a former state senator, resigned June 30 after serving 16 years in the state Legislature to become chief executive of the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance.

The 6-week-old organization is the result of a merger of the Pennsylvania Coal Association and the Monessen-based Families Organized to Represent the Coal Industry.

Pippy said the combination is an effort to strengthen the message of coal’s importance as a fuel that contributes to America’s drive toward energy independence and its multibillion-dollar impact each year on the nation’s economy.

On Friday, Pippy was one of several panelists at the final day of an energy symposium at Southpointe, sponsored by the Washington County Chamber of Commerce and the Washington County Energy Partners. The three days of discussions were presented by America’s Natural Gas Alliance and held in conjunction with the Mylan Classic.

Speaking to about 75 people at Consol Energy’s Southpointe headquarters, Pippy said coal’s use will continue to be a major part of the energy-use spectrum for years to come.

“According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the world’s energy demand will grow by 55 percent over the next two decades,” Pippy said.

His remark was supported in a welcoming message from Robert Pusateri, Consol’s executive vice president of energy sales and transportation services.

Pusateri told the audience that much of Consol’s coal is exported from a terminal in Baltimore and shipped to China, where it is unloaded and transported to power plants and consumed. He said the entire cycle from ship-date to consumption is completed every 35 days.

Pippy noted that it is estimated that there is a 250-year supply of coal around the globe, and about 30 percent of coal reserves are in the United States.

The coal industry employs more than 40,000 workers and makes a $7 billion impact on the U.S. economy, he said.

While acknowledging environmental concerns about the use of the natural resource, Pippy noted that the U.S. is only responsible for 19 percent of annual carbon dioxide emissions, with coal contributing less than 7 percent of the total. That compares to China, which contributes 26 percent of annual CO2 emissions, and Europe and Eurasia, which together contribute 29 percent each year.

A critic of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s aggressive pursuit of more stringent regulations for coal, Pippy said the United States needs to embrace technological innovation to reduce greenhouse gases.

The remaining speakers focused on a variety of topics related to the abundance of natural gas being produced in the region and its growing impact on everything from transportation to public policy.

Mike Lickert, corporate fleet manager for Giant Eagle, discussed the store’s continuing addition of natural gas vehicles to its fleet of trucks that transport groceries to its 228 supermarkets in the region.

Lickert said the chain purchased 10 natural gas trucks two years ago that are producing lower greenhouse emissions than diesel or gasoline and operate on fuel costs about one-third lower than either of the traditional fuels.

He said that while the cost of the new trucks and the infrastructure is higher, the company is seeing a payback by the second year of operation.

Lickert said Giant Eagle now has a total of 21 compressed natural gas trucks and one CNG Honda Civic and has no regrets about making the switch in its fleet.

“We’re not looking back at all on this one,” he said.

The long-term effects of the county and region becoming an energy center for the country are providing a number of projects for the new Washington & Jefferson College Center for Energy Policy and Management, said Diana Stares, who became the center’s inaugural director last year.

Stares said the center plans to evaluate the economic impact of shale gas development in Washington County, as well as a study of the impact of gas development in the context of historic boom and bust cycles associated with other industries like steel, coal and timber.

Pamela Witmer, a commissioner with the state Public Utility Commission, said the commission, which has always regulated natural gas distribution lines to residential and industrial consumers, now has additional responsibility for regulatory oversight of natural gas gathering lines in the state.

The new assignment is a result of Act 127, known as the Pipeline Safety Act of 2011.

The PUC is also overseeing the disbursement of about $207 million collected from gas drilling companies in impact fees levied as a result of Act 13.

Witmer said the money will be distributed to various municipalities in the Marcellus Shale fairway, as well as several state agencies.

She said the advent of abundant natural gas and its derivatives provides the opportunity for a manufacturing renaissance in the state for the chemical, plastics and pharmaceutical industries.

“We could fill this room with the list of things that could be manufactured here by the U.S. chemical industry,” she said.

But she also expressed concern that the scale of the buildout of industrial expansion could be hampered by a lack of skilled labor, ranging from utility linemen to welders, pipefitters and technicians.

She said a recent survey of Pennsylvania manufacturers found there were 7,600 manufacturing jobs open, noting they had difficulties filling the positions.

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