By Abby Foster
Increasingly, Pennsylvania’s chemical industry is using natural gas transported by the country’s extensive pipeline network as a feedstock to make products you use every day — from clothes to shampoo. That includes items that are vital to our medical community in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Disinfectants, intensive care medical equipment, personal protective equipment, therapeutics and laboratory supplies are all created using, or supported by, the chemical manufacturing industry here in our state.
The $24 billion chemical industry in Pennsylvania, the eighth-largest chemical-producing state, supports 90,000 jobs. It’s been around-the-clock work for many of these employees during the pandemic to keep our front-line workers equipped while keeping your households running smoothly.
Natural gas liquids such as ethane, propane and butane are essential to producing much of the critical equipment our hospitals use to treat COVID patients. For instance, propane — one of the natural gas liquids moved through Energy Transfer’s Mariner East pipeline system — is the raw material used to make polypropylene, which is used in surgical masks, gloves and wipes.
A combination of propane, butane and ethane makes polystyrene, which is used to create tissue culture trays, test tubes and petri dishes. Ethane is used to make ethylene, which is a key ingredient in oxygen masks, IV infusion sets, surgical gloves, face shields and ventilators. And ethane, propane and butane are active pharmaceutical ingredients and used in packaging for just about everything.
The industry is a robust part of our economy, and we are fortunate in Pennsylvania to rely less on global manufacturers under stress from unprecedented demand during the pandemic and more on our domestic manufacturing capabilities.
In fact, it’s a growing industry. The opportunity for chemical and petrochemical manufacturing growth in the region based on the utilization of our natural gas resources is projected at $35 billion in new capital investment and 100,000 new jobs by 2025. The chemical industry could present some of the best future job opportunities in Pennsylvania, especially for young people whose plans have been derailed by the pandemic.
Although the pandemic is altering how we live and work, we can count on Pennsylvania’s chemical industry to keep the economy moving as it creates the products necessary to keep us all safe and healthy.
Abby Foster is president of the Pennsylvania Chemical Industry Council.