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Appalachia Indirectly Endorses Energy on Election Day

Appalachia went red on Tuesday, not only helping Republicans take the White House and keep their grip on the U.S. Senate, but mostly endorsing candidates with pro-energy agendas and rejecting an effort to thwart the oil and gas industry.

In Ohio, Republican Sen. Rob Portman handily defeated his Democratic challenger, former Gov. Ted Strickland, by more than one million votes. The incumbent's victory was expected in the state, but it had a heightened air of importance as Democrats had hoped to wrest control of the chamber from the GOP. In Pennsylvania, Republican Sen. Pat Toomey narrowly fended off a challenge from Democratic hopeful Katie McGinty in a closely watched race to keep his seat by an unofficial vote of 49-47%.

A former Wall Street investment banker, Toomey, like Portman, has been an advocate for oil and gas-related growth in the Appalachian Basin. McGinty, who once served as chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and as secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, promoted a climate protection agenda and favored a stronger transition to clean energy. She played an instrumental role in the early days of regulating the Marcellus Shale boom in the Keystone state.

Democratic candidate Jim Justice, a billionaire who owns Appalachian coal mines, a luxury golf resort and other businesses, won the West Virginia gubernatorial race. Justice beat Republican state Senate President Bill Cole by an unofficial margin of 49-42%. The state split the top of the ticket, as Donald Trump took the presidential race. Justice is an unconventional Democrat, however. He’s previously been registered as a Republican, didn't publicly support Hillary Clinton and at times aligned with Trump.

West Virginia ranks fourth among all states in total energy production and is one of the nation's largest coal producers, according to the Energy Information Administration. Justice railed against the federal Clean Power Plan and also said he wanted to cultivate more markets for the state's natural gas, which he believes can continue to aid the economy (see Shale Daily, Oct. 24).

Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and even Kentucky have been bolstered by advances in the oil and gas industry in recent years. The Marcellus and Utica shales have helped Pennsylvania become the nation's second largest gas producer, pushed production above 1 Tcf annually in West Virginia and fueled manufacturing growth in Ohio and other parts of the basin. In Kentucky, older plays have been revived and new formations are slowly being explored (see Shale Daily, July 24, 2015).

In Pennsylvania, where the Republican-controlled General Assembly has stymied some of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s agenda, including his efforts to enact a severance tax on natural gas production, the GOP on Tuesday built some of the largest majorities it has had in decades in both chambers. Republicans will have 122 of 203 seats in the House of Representatives and 34 of 50 seats in the Senate.

Republicans also picked up seats in the Ohio statehouse to strengthen their majorities in both chambers. In West Virginia, Republicans protected their majority in the House and gained seats in the Senate, where the party now holds 22 of 34 seats.

On the Democratic side, Pennsylvania elected Josh Shapiro as its next attorney general (AG). He campaigned to reform the office after the tumultuous tenure of former Democratic AG Kathleen Kane, who was sentenced to prison last month after being convicted of felony perjury charges and abuse of office for her role in leaking grand jury testimony to a Philadelphia newspaper (see Shale Daily, Oct. 21).

Shapiro's Republican challenger, John Rafferty, also preached reform but ran a campaign grounded more in the perception of stability. Kane had at times sparred with the oil and gas industry regarding hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Shapiro promised on his website to "ensure safe, clean drinking water by holding the oil and natural gas frackers accountable when they break the rules and pollute our drinking water, threatening our families' health.”

For the sixth time since 2013, voters in Youngstown, OH, rejected a charter amendment that would have banned fracking and related activities in the city limits (see Shale Daily, Nov. 4, 2015). The referendum was defeated 55-45%, but organizers pledged to keep pushing the issue.

In Waterville, OH, in the northwest part of the state, voters approved a community bill of rights banning natural gas infrastructure, which is aimed at preventing the Nexus Gas Transmission pipeline. Nexus would move Utica and Marcellus gas to markets in Michigan and Canada, but it's unclear if the ban can hold up against a court challenge (see Shale Daily, July 11).

And while Trump carried both West Virginia and Kentucky, as Mitt Romney did in 2012, he tipped the scales in Pennsylvania and Ohio, where President Obama won in both 2008 and 2012, helping ensure his path to victory.

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