At conference, the drum beat for a Philadelphia energy hub builds

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"These are reserves you don't measure in years, you don't measure in decades, you measure in centuries," Philip Rinaldi, chief executive of Philadelphia Energy Solutions, told an energy conference hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

Local business leaders on Thursday continued to beat the drum to build out Philadelphia as an energy hub, saying the region should take advantage of its proximity to the Marcellus Shale natural-gas boom to revive the area's manufacturing sector.

"These are reserves you don't measure in years, you don't measure in decades, you measure in centuries," Philip Rinaldi, chief executive of Philadelphia Energy Solutions, told an energy conference hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

Though the conference was titled "Energy Interdependence in the Western Hemisphere" and explored shifts in world energy supplies, it took on a distinctly local flavor with a focus on the dramatic growth of natural-gas production in Pennsylvania.

"We believe that nothing more typifies interdependence than energy," said Peter A. Gold, vice chairman of the Global Interdependence Center, a Philadelphia nonprofit that promotes international cooperation and sponsored the conference.

Patrick T. Harker, president of the Philadelphia Fed, said the shale-gas boom "is not the first, nor the last, energy cycle for this region." He noted Pennsylvania's history of oil production and coal mining, and petroleum refining along the Delaware.

Rinaldi, whose company operates the former Sunoco refinery in South Philadelphia and who is chairman of a Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce effort to spur energy growth, has become the most vocal cheerleader for an effort to organize construction of a large pipeline to deliver natural gas to the area to stimulate manufacturing.

He said the controversial PennEast Pipeline, a proposed 118-mile connector from Pennsylvania's natural-gas region to an existing network in the Trenton area, would primarily benefit New Jersey utilities and their customers. It would only marginally serve Philadelphia, he noted.

"That pipeline is the tip of the iceberg," he said. "But we really need to have much more massive quantities of gas before you see a meaningful impact."

Rinaldi has become the bête noire of some environmentalists, who he said had "developed a near religious zeal that burning any kind of hydrocarbon is bad for Planet Earth."

The Philadelphia area has no competitive advantage over Sun Belt states or windy regions to develop large-scale solar or wind-generation facilities, he said.

"We have gentle breezes and sun that shines a couple days a year," Rinaldi said. "But we've got gas every day for more than a century, and we would be foolish not to recognize that gas."

Other conference speakers underscored similar points.

Joseph Hughes, dean of Drexel University's College of Engineering, said that when he arrived at the school four years ago, few energy companies participated in its cooperative-education programs. Now, 13 of the top 20 employers accepting Drexel engineering co-op students are energy companies.

"It's a remarkable, remarkable change," Hughes said. "We have a number of corporations that will take as many students as we can give them."

Sunoco Logistics Partners L.P., the Philadelphia pipeline company that is investing $3 billion to build its hotly contested Mariner East pipeline system to deliver Marcellus propane and ethane to Marcus Hook, said that exports of natural-gas liquids will entice manufacturers to build plants here to use the fuels as raw materials.

"If you get the molecules to this area, then you can build on it," said Hank Alexander, the company's vice president for business development.

And Dennis Rochford, president of the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River and Bay, said energy trade represents a huge potential for new shipping activity. The Marcus Hook site alone, he said, could load 200 to 300 ships a year when the Mariner East pipelines are completed, more than twice the ship traffic it handled when it was an oil refinery.

"Dare I say it?" Rochford said. "I believe we'll become the Houston of the East Coast."

amaykuth@phillynews.com

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