After an unusual meeting between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the international media portrayed Biden as having handed Putin a huge win in Russia’s drive for energy dominance in Europe.

Along with the media’s assistance, the administration had been slowly strengthening Russia’s position in international energy markets. Three weeks prior, the Biden administration lifted sanctions on allies of Putin who run the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would transport gas from the Russian Arctic under the Baltic Sea to Germany—directly benefiting a Russian state-owned energy corporation called Gazprom. The sanction relief came despite the U.S. Department of State having reported that Nord Stream 2 and its chief executive, Matthias Warnig, a former East German intelligence officer, engaged in sanctionable activity.

These puzzling moves by the Biden administration came just days after Russian hackers extorted a $4.4M ransom from the Colonial Pipeline serving the eastern United States, and five months after President Biden signed an executive order halting permits on the Keystone XL pipeline here in the U.S.

But while the President’s actions have caused many a furrowed brow on news broadcasts, the similarly destructive actions of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf—which help Putin achieve his dictatorial goals—have been largely uncovered by local and national media.

In March of 2020, while exercising emergency executive powers relating to the Coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Tom Wolf banned all “non-life-sustaining” business in Pennsylvania, an edict that included the ongoing construction of the Mariner East pipeline. Almost immediately thereafter, workers were ordered to stop digging. The Mariner East pipeline project was designed to move hundreds of thousands of barrels of liquid natural gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale regions to a facility in Marcus Hook, just south of Philadelphia, where they would be stored and eventually shipped mostly to overseas markets.

While exercising emergency executive powers relating to the Coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Tom Wolf banned all ‘non-life-sustaining’ business in Pennsylvania, an edict that included the ongoing construction of the Mariner East pipeline.

A completed pipeline delivering natural gas from the East Coast’s largest shale would not just result in a boost to the Delaware Valley economy but would offer Western Europe an alternative to Russian gas imports. Furthermore, if combined with the completion of the 12-year Delaware River dredging project, it could result in new economic development in the Philadelphia region, akin to that in Houston, which long-ago surpassed Philadelphia in population.  

But the shutdown order last year was not the first time the pipeline had hit political roadblocks. The Mariner pipeline project has sparked intense opposition from both the Wolf administration and Pennsylvania Democratic caucus for years. Since the pipeline went into service in December 2018, there have been numerous attempts to shut it down amid reported violations of state law and the company has been fined more than $13 million.

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“From the very beginning and at many times along the way, we have raised serious questions about the permitting process of the Mariner East pipeline project,” said State Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-Chester), who opposes the pipeline.

As with nuclear power, opposition to pipelines at the federal and state levels has normally come from environmental lobbyists—who cite a concern for safety. Ironically, however, when pipeline construction is halted out of safety and environmental concerns, the alternative is to transport oil and gas by truck and train, presenting a significantly higher carbon footprint and risk of accident than pipelines. As there is a clear economic incentive to prevent pipeline spills, their operators constantly monitor the pressure and volume in the lines, communicating with those living and working near their lines.  According to government statistics, accident rates for pipelines are far lower than truck and train accidents. The fact that pipelines are so strongly opposed by Democrats like Wolf and Biden may be more of a political calculation than a rational analysis of cost versus benefit.

When pipeline construction is halted out of safety and environmental concerns, the alternative is to transport oil and gas by truck and train.

Environmental concerns aside, however, an increased supply of gas from Pennsylvania would mean a decreased dependence on Russian and Middle Eastern imports for America’s allies and an increase in good-paying, union jobs in Pennsylvania.

Thus, the opposition to the Mariner pipeline project, along with the slow progress of port expansion in greater Philadelphia, may have helped Putin while harming the economic progress of Pennsylvanians. If pipeline operators and state regulators can work together to address safety and environmental concerns, Pennsylvania may be able to help forge a path toward the return of energy independence—whether it is now or following the 2022 gubernatorial election.

A. Benjamin Mannes, MA, CPP, CESP, is a Subject Matter Expert in Security & Criminal Justice Reform based on his own experiences on both sides of the criminal justice system. He has served as a federal and municipal law enforcement officer and was the former Director, Office of Investigations with the American Board of Internal Medicine. @PublicSafetySME

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