ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Comparing the effort to achieve energy independence to President John F. Kennedy's call to land on the moon in the 1960s, U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson believes the new mission is vital.
Johnson, R-Ohio, told The Intelligencer Monday that House Republicans are making a push toward what he believes is a true "all-of-the-above" approach to a national energy policy. Representing Ohio's 6th Congressional District which is flush in reserves of both natural gas and coal, Johnson said both fossil fuels must continue playing a major role in providing energy to the nation. He refers to the concept as the "American Energy Vision 2020" plan.
"Wind and solar energy need to be embraced. But they simply cannot meet our major energy needs," Johnson said. "If the federal government will just get out of the way, the free market can drive the innovation that we need to reach energy independence."
Abstracting, drilling, fracking, pipelining and processing are some of activities taking place in eastern Ohio because of the Utica Shale natural gas and oil rush. Billions of dollars worth of pipelines and processing facilities are being built from Marietta to Zanesville to Canton to Steubenville.
In Belmont County, natural gas companies such as Gulfport Energy, Hess Corp., Antero Resources, Chesapeake Energy and XTO Energy are paying millions of dollars in leases and royalties to mineral owners. Another company, Rice Energy, paid more than $100 million to Belmont County mineral owners in about one week earlier this year. Much of the high value for the wet gas underlying parts of eastern Ohio is that it can contain ethane, propane, butane, pentane and oil - in addition to the dry methane gas.
"There is huge investment happening right now, and there is potential for much more," Johnson said.
So far, Johnson has one Democratic challenger for his seat in 2014, former Ohio Rep. Jennifer Garrison. As an attorney based in Marietta, Garrison represented more than 1,000 landowners in negotiating natural gas leases in southeast Ohio.
"It is a game-changer," Garrison said of the Utica Shale rush. "Just this week, I toured the MarkWest (Energy) plant in Noble County."
Johnson also believes fracking regulations should remain under states' control, noting recent studies have shown no connection between water contamination and fracking.
"We have regulated oil and gas drilling in Ohio since 1965," he added.
However, Johnson is concerned about President Barack Obama's efforts to curtail carbon emissions because he believes they put coal's future in jeopardy.
"Coal represents affordable energy, as well the livelihoods of thousands of honest and hard-working people," Johnson said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states on its website that methane emissions from natural gas are 20 times more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide emissions from coal. And Johnson believes Obama soon will turn his attention to trying to eliminate all fossil fuels.
"As soon as this president gets rid of the coal industry, he will go after the natural gas industry," Johnson said. "Americans are problem-solvers. We can solve any problems there are with burning coal. (EPA officials) do not give companies time to mitigate the problems before they are coming to impose even more regulations."
Garrison said she also recognizes the "great role that coal plays in this area."
"I think it is important to look at clean-coal technologies," she said. "We are very blessed to have so much coal and gas here."