Can we at least act civilly in the pipeline debate?
By Earl Baker
In our democracy there are many things that unite us and many things that divide us. It is the nature of our society. But it need not pull us apart outside the bounds of respectful behavior and debate. Any innovation in our laws is met with those who oppose it; any change in our economic structure is met with opposition from those who want to keep the status quo. But no matter how much competition there is in the public square there are certain rules of civility and respect. These are in danger of being broken by some in our state who view their opposition to the natural gas industry and its ability to reach the energy market as justification for activities that go beyond the rules of free speech and even beyond proper protest.
Here is an example that will explain my concern. A woman in a rural part of the state actually has set bait out to entice bears and mountain lions into the right of way of the Mariner East 2 Pipeline! Her idea, I suppose, is that such creatures would – at the least – scare pipeline workers away from their work. It sounds bizarre and even a bit frightening, but it makes my point.
We can expect some politicians to try to take advantage of anti-pipeline sentiments, such as state Sen. Andy Dinniman, since Chester County lies in the path of the Mariner Project. But what about Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, also of Chester County, who compared pipeline workers to “Nazis” just doing their job. She eventually apologized but again my point is made. Do we have a civil discourse over a matter of public infrastructure policy and how it is implemented, or do we have name-calling and comparing hard-working pipeline employees with the Holocaust!
What about trespassing and vandalizing construction equipment, which has occurred in three counties? Blocking workers from entering a construction site? We need to be alert to the potential of real danger and even lives threatened, and in the name of what? For many opponents of the natural gas industry their attitude is do anything or say anything to subvert the industry. I give credit to those who honestly question whether pipeline construction is being done safely or is in the best interest of the state. I have responses for them, which hopefully will get them to align against those who purport to represent them with activities that are outside the boundaries.
Pipelines are in fact the safest, as well as the most efficient, method to transport natural gas. Rail and trucks are the methods of the past. Permitting of Mariner East is highly regulated by both federal and state standards. And the Mariner East project uses an even heavier gauge steel, and is buried deeper, than required. And once completed it will be monitored 24/7 and regularly inspected. Such proposed concepts as the Pipeline Investment Program could generate a $60 Billion increase in the state’s GDP, support the creation of 100,000 new jobs and increase state revenues.
The Mariner East pipeline will create approximately 9,500 jobs each year over the six-year period of construction. Moving the natural gas from production sites to manufacturing enterprises, or to Marcus Hook in Delaware County for shipping, is the key to unlocking the potential value the industry has for Pennsylvania. Our ability to ship to Europe from the pipeline terminal is a clear way to lessen Russian control of energy to Europe.
Pipeline workers pride themselves on their ability to perform high quality work in a safe and professional manner, but that’s not you hear in the present debate. It’s time to get politics out of the way and let them finish the job!
Earl Baker is a former three term county commissioner and two term state senator from Chester County.