Philadelphia City Councilman Wants to Use Marcellus Shale Gas to Revive PGW
This story has been updated to reflect PGW’s response.
In the past, Philadelphia Gas Works has been on life-support. Philadelphia actually owns the 176-year-old natural gas distribution company, the only urban natural gas utility in the U.S. not run by a private company. Philadelphians pay some of the highest rates in the state. Still, with such a large impoverished population, PGW has struggled financially, leading the city to refund the utility’s payments. PGW has recently made improvements. A $45 million loan was repaid to the city in 2012. Talk of selling the utility has surfaced and re-surfaced. Today, natural gas used to heat Philadelphia homes has to travel up a pipeline from the Gulf Coast. Meanwhile, there’s a gas boom going on in the rest of the state, which Philadelphia has yet to tap into. And Philadelphia City Councilman Jim Kenney says he wants to change that.
But when Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter spoke to the gas industry at their annual Shale Gas Insight conference in Philadelphia in September, he had some harsh words for drillers who he says had yet to earn the city’s trust. Outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center that day, environmentalists protested the industry. A growing movement concerned about the health and environmental impacts of drilling has a large and active following in Philadelphia.
City Councilman Jim Kenney, who was once close pals with Nutter, often positions himself in opposition to the Mayor. On Thursday, Kenney told WHYY City Hall reporter Tom MacDonald, that he wants to use Pennsylvania’s own natural gas to help remake PGW into a utility that actually operates like a successful private business.
“There’s so many opportunities out there with this industry that Philadelphia should not be trying to isolate itself from it,” says Kenney. WHYY’s Newsworks.org has more:
Kenney says the use of shale gas could help make the Philadelphia utility profitable and also be able to continue to help seniors and others who struggle to pay gas bills.
“At some point in time, I’d like to see if we can get it piped here or trucked here or something here,” he said. “It is a cheap and pretty clean form of energy that we could use in a city with a lot of people living in poverty and can’t afford their gas bills.”
PGW, which is required to purchase the cheapest fuel it can find, now buys gas transported by a pipeline from the Gulf of Mexico.
PGW spokesman Finbarr O’Sullivan says it would be difficult to make use of Marcellus gas.
“We buy gas from companies not geographies,” wrote O’Sullivan in an email. “Right now most of our gas comes from the Gulf because it is more cost effective, more reliable… and it can actually reach here easily. No pipeline from Marcellus Shale sources currently serves Philadelphia directly.”
But plans are in the works to pipe Marcellus Shale gas to Philadelphia. Sunoco recently announced the Mariner East project, which will send wet gas, or propane and ethane, east for processing at the Marcus Hook refinery.