By Steven Winberg, Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy

The U.S. Department of Energy [DOE] released a report this week entitled “The Appalachian Energy and Petrochemical Renaissance.”

The report’s key finding is that Appalachia’s economic growth potential is extremely high—even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic economic setback—because of its abundant energy resources.

Appalachia is also critical to advancing America’s future prosperity and energy security, because it is now the Nation’s top producing region of natural gas and a major producer of coal and natural gas liquids.

Even before COVID, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky were on track to enjoy a manufacturing revival. This is because of Appalachia’s rich reserves of low-cost natural gas, its strong, dedicated workforce, the increased production of equipment directly related to energy production, and leading research and development in automation and advanced manufacturing.

One of the areas with great promise is the petrochemical field. The American Chemistry Council estimates that 100,000 jobs could be created in the petrochemical industry in Appalachia. We are about to witness the first world-scale petrochemical cracker in Appalachia come online. A second is already planned, the construction of which will require 6,000 to 8,500 predominantly union construction workers to complete this project.

The report also makes clear that Appalachian coal has an important place in America’s energy and manufacturing future.

Not only are there numerous export markets for Appalachian coal, there is great potential in what we call the “coal-to-products” industry. As the name suggests, this involves using coal as a feedstock to develop high-value products like building material, carbon fiber, and graphite.

There is also potential to extract critical minerals from coal, including rare earth elements, almost all of which are currently sourced from unreliable foreign trading partners. This innovation will create jobs and help secure our supply chains.

Of course, private capital will drive economic growth. But, the government has an important role to play. Continued effective policies and public sector investment in a pro-growth business environment, public infrastructure, workforce development, and innovation can help attract private sector investment and create new business opportunities.

There is a resilient culture in the Appalachian region, full of Americans ready to work and ready to contribute to a great American economic comeback. The government must foster an environment that will allow industry in this area to prosper.

Visit the Office of Fossil Energy’s website to learn more about how Appalachia is poised to play a leading role in American energy dominance.

Steven Winberg
Steve Winberg served as the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy (FE).
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