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Wes Venteicher
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke discussed energy development and security in Pittsburgh on Friday, Sept. 28, 2018, at a Consumer Energy Alliance forum.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Friday in Pittsburgh that the country should continue to expand natural gas and offshore development to push the it closer to energy independence.

Shrugging off the idea that the country might be approaching a time of “peak oil” or “peak energy,” after which production would begin to decline, Zinke said the country’s energy portfolio has changed dramatically in the past 10 years. He spoke at an energy and manufacturing summit hosted by the nonprofit Consumer Energy Alliance.

“I’m bullish on the energy position of the U.S.,” he said. “And, quite frankly, If you go back in time, even five years ago, it was, in many minds, it was inconceivable that we’d be in the position we are today. And this is not the ninth inning; this is probably the fourth inning. We have yet to develop offshore wind. We have yet to develop our solar capacity and we have yet to fully bring online our ability for liquid natural gas.”

Pennsylvania, which is second only to Texas in producing natural gas, is poised to expand development, said Alan Armstrong, president and CEO of energy infrastructure company Williams.

Ten years ago, Armstrong said, the petrochemical industry was headed overseas, along with the manufacturing jobs that go with it.

“Today, the U.S. is the top destination for somebody wanting to invest in petrochemicals. So, in just a 10-year time frame, we’ve gone from being one of the worst places to invest in the petrochemical industry to one of the very best places. And Pennsylvania’s gas, and the product coming out of here, is one of the places that’s making a big difference in that.”

Continued expansion depends heavily on building pipelines to get the gas to the markets where it is in most demand, particularly the southeastern U.S., Armstrong said.

Pipeline development projects have been controversial in Pennsylvania, and a pipeline explosion two weeks ago in Beaver County raised new questions about safety. Armstrong and Zinke were critical of state efforts to block pipelines.

Zinke raised the prospect of greater federal involvement to aid pipeline development.

“We’re going to have to have a discussion about whether a state has the ability to diminish the economic livelihood of a neighboring state,” Zinke said, saying in response to follow-up a question that he thought that task would fall to the Commerce Department.

The Interior Department, as stated on its website, “conserves and manages the nation’s natural resources and cultural heritage for the benefit and enjoyment of the American people,” in addition to other responsibilities.

In a letter included in the department’s 2018-2022 plan, Zinke addressed resource development on public lands.

“Our mandate is multiple-use of public lands, and multiple-use also includes the development of natural resources as we seek to leverage American energy for American strength,” he said in the letter. “Americans should have the right to make a living off the land, and one of our most critical responsibilities at Interior is upholding this right.”

Early this year, he opened up the majority of U.S. coastal waters to oil and gas drilling and wind development, largely reversing an Obama-era order that prohibited offshore development on most of the coast lines. Zinke also has supported rolling back protections for national monuments in Utah.

In his Friday speech, Zinke said it is better for the U.S. to develop natural resources and supply it to the world than for other countries to develop the resources in a less-regulated way.

He said he expects growth in wind, solar and natural gas, saying coal is “under duress.”

“I think the big gun is probably liquid natural gas, because the market overseas is liquid natural gas,” he said.

He said he expected growth in development of shale in the Permian Basin beneath Texas and New Mexico, the Woodford Shale formation in Oklahoma and more development in Alaska.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Wes at 412-380-5676, [email protected] or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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