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When it comes to energy, we need more balance, less fear

By Salena Zito

IMPERIAL, Pennsylvania — In the last 22 years, protecting and caring for the planet has gone from a “we’re all in this together” part of our culture to a political wedge issue. And it isn’t just your average pedestrian wedge issue that arises and wanes with each election cycle. No, this one is volatile, vengeful and all-consuming.

We were once a country that worked together in cleaning up pollution and using technological and scientific developments to produce cleaner and safer energy. But a lurch leftward has turned environmentalism into a one-sided virtual religion from which no deviation is permitted.

On Sunday, former Vice President Al Gore connected the dots between deniers of an apocalyptic climate crisis and the police officers in Uvalde, Texas, who let 21 schoolchildren and teachers be gunned down in their classrooms.

“The climate deniers are really, in some ways, similar to all of those almost 400 law enforcement officers in Uvalde, Texas, who were waiting outside an unlocked door while the children were being massacred,” Gore said on NBC News.

The problem with this avalanche of opinion is the failure to educate ourselves and our children on the other side of the story in a meaningful way.

When I was a child, our teachers took us on a tour of a nuclear plant. They also took us on a tour of where they made Heinz ketchup and Wonder Bread, and a coal mine. They didn’t try to indoctrinate us, they just showed us the world.

Derek Yanchak is the other side of the story. The 34-year-old Washington County native is the Completions Engineering and Operations Manager for Range Resources at its Dalbo well site in southwest Pennsylvania.

Yanchak is like the thousands of other professionals working in the natural gas industry — young, well-educated (Penn State 2010) and deeply connected to the land he works on. It matters to him what goes in and out of the ground, because he fishes, swims, hikes and hunts in the same region where his company drills.

The Dalbo well pad is just outside the city of Pittsburgh, where Allegheny, Beaver and Washington counties converge.

Outside of the occasional truck going back and forth, no noise is coming from the entrance to the pad. That is a sharp contrast with the old Jones and Laughlin steel mill that once hugged the Monongahela River in Pittsburgh, whose operational hum echoed throughout the city. Until you get through the guard gate, the only sounds you hear here are pastoral.

The first thing you see at the pad is a solar panel. Yanchak explains that it is used from time to time as a power source at the pad. The second thing you see is a lot of men and women in hard hats checking wells, recycling water, and using a lot of computers to measure and gauge the entire operation.

Yanchak explains that they are operating four wells right now. “It is a pretty typical operation because this is a reentry,” he said. He notes that they are “re-utilizing existing locations and existing infrastructure. It drives down costs and allows us to not have to build new pipelines, instead just kind of refill those existing pipelines to get to those processing facilities.”

For years, the fleet equipment that Range Resources used was diesel — which is more dangerous and expensive. The entire fleet went electric in 2019; the turbine on the pad is using natural gas to create electricity around the fleet.

Yanchak says traditional fracking uses diesel-fueled engines to produce electricity to power pressure pumps for hydraulic fracturing operations. “Electric fracking uses natural gas from the well pad to power turbines to create electricity.”

Not only are the fleets half the size of diesel fleets, but they are also a whole lot quieter.

Range Resources, which drilled Pennsylvania’s first Marcellus Shale well back in 2004, is a Texas-based oil and natural gas exploration and production company with regional headquarters here in Washington County.

Hydraulic fracturing accesses the gas in a process that involves drilling a mile deep and launching a mixture (99% water and sand, 1% chemicals) into a horizontal well to crack the rock below and release gas hydrocarbons to the surface. Because the process requires an abundance of water, the company is part of a sharing program with other regional natural gas operators and recycles everything those companies use. Yanchak said that this share and recycle system has resulted in an over 150% recycle rate of the water.

The sand comes from places like Mingo Junction, Ohio, and other river town areas in the near Midwest. Because the sand they use is extremely fine, delivered in bins that are removed by truck when empty, dust clouds are not a problem.

Western Pennsylvania native Jeffrey Ventura took over as CEO of Range in January 2012. The company has come a long way from when it drilled its first well 18 years ago. There have been a few lawsuits along the way, but for the most part, it has become a company that has changed the prosperity in this part of the state.

Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald, a Pittsburgh Democrat who has been supportive of the industry, said there is no doubt in his mind that the natural gas industry has become a game-changer for this region.

“It just put a lot of people to work for years, and years, and years,” he said. “Our building trades, ironworkers, carpenters, laborers, chemists, engineers, and on and on and on, it has literally transformed this region over the last 15 years, in addition to keeping utility costs down for people who probably could least afford it. “

“That 70% reduction in energy costs in the gas bills for the average homeowner from 2008 to 2020 also made us more competitive with manufacturing and other operations in the Pittsburgh area,” Fitzgerald said.

Ventura said the image of the industry stands in sharp contrast to its less-known reality, with its painstaking safety and environmental measures.

“We are focused on operating environmentally sensitively and safely,” said Ventura. “Being a good steward of the environment and a good citizen in the communities we’re in… The American energy industry has a great story to tell; it is a job creator, it stabilizes communities, and it is a secure source of energy for the country.”

It is also a geopolitical plus: It helps with trade balance and national security, it keeps jobs in this region and this country, and it attracts other industries to locate near where it flourishes.

The energy industry cannot hope to get balanced coverage from the national media, which will glorify the Al Gores of this world while dismissing the Yanchaks. And then, the same journalists who write those stories will wonder why working people’s votes have changed so much in recent years.

Salena Zito is a CNN political analyst, and a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner. She reaches the Everyman and Everywoman through shoe-leather journalism, traveling from Main Street to the beltway and all places in between.

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