Natural gas from the Marcellus Shale could be the answer to Pennsylvania’s energy problems, “should we choose to embrace it,” according to former Gov. Ed Rendell.

“Throughout my tenure as governor, I witnessed Pennsylvania become an epicenter for natural gas development. This influx of jobs and investment spurred an unprecedented economic boom for our state and, thanks to a resource found right here in Pennsylvania, this economic revitalization continues,” Rendell said in an opinion column published Monday by the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Cheap, clean and abundant energy is available to heat our homes, fuel our cars and trucks, and power our state’s economy. It’s not a campaign slogan, it’s reality.”

Natural gas could make significant strides, particularly in the Philadelphia area, as a transportation fuel, according to Rendell, a Democrat who served two terms as governor, from 2003 until he stepped down under term limits last year, and Republican Tom Corbett was elected. Rendell previously served two terms as mayor of Philadelphia in the 1990s.

“By transitioning SEPTA [Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority] to natural gas, Philadelphia could lower taxpayer costs and refocus funds while making significant strides to be a better steward of the environment…while improved air quality and savings at the pump are key advantages of natural gas vehicles (NGVs), the most critical benefit is our increased economic, energy and national security,” Rendell said. “America’s dependence on foreign oil puts our citizens and our economy in jeopardy. Year after year, as OPEC continues to raise the price of oil, we cannot afford to continue relying on unstable, undemocratic regimes to provide our energy. Natural gas offers a solution, an American solution, produced right here in Pennsylvania.”

Thanks to regulations put in place during his tenure in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania can tap into its natural gas resource while still protecting the environment, Rendell said.

“Before leaving office in 2011 I put in place strict regulations that require the treatment of fracking [hydraulic fracturing] wastewater to ensure it meets the federal clean water standards, before it is disposed of in any of our waterways. We also imposed standards to prevent methane from contaminating groundwater by requiring the highest standards for fracking well construction. By allowing this robust regulatory framework to safeguard the marketplace, natural gas development can become safer and more reliable.”

Perhaps not coincidentally, Rendell this week is also making appearances on television and radio programs to promote his book “A Nation of Wussies: How America’s Leaders Lost The Guts To Make Us Great,” which was released Monday.

The Marcellus remains one of the most active shale plays in the country, despite a recent slip in activity. There were 136 rigs operating in the Marcellus in the week ending June 1, according to NGI’s Shale Daily Unconventional Rig Count, two fewer than in the week before and a five-rig (4%) decline from a year ago. Only the Eagle Ford (248 rigs) and the Bakken/Sanish/Three Forks (222 rigs) have more rigs running.

Rendell’s relationship with the natural gas industry has at times been a rocky one. In Philadelphia last year he scolded the industry, which he said had “screwed up so badly” by not offering to pay a severance tax that it brought a tide of negative public opinion on itself (see Shale Daily, Sept. 9, 2011). “This industry, frankly, has been a great disappointment to me,” Rendell said at the time. But he supported shale development, going so far as to ask New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to lift that state’s moratorium on development.

Corbett recently said Pennsylvania is looking into ways to help facilitate the construction of pipelines and NGVs to generate more demand and help draw down large supplies (see Shale Daily, May 16). In February Corbett signed into law Act 13, which allows counties to impose an annual fee on unconventional gas wells at a rate tied to gas prices and adjusted annually for inflation (see Shale Daily, Feb. 9).

Republican Tom Ridge, who was governor of Pennsylvania from 1995 until 2001 before becoming the first Secretary of Homeland Security, later became a strategic adviser for the Marcellus Shale Coalition. In 2010 Ridge was named to Corbett’s transition team (see Shale Daily, Nov. 15, 2010). Last year Ridge said the natural gas industry needed to improve its image in Pennsylvania, and recommended sitting down with elected officials and environmental leaders as the best way to begin that process (see Shale Daily, Feb. 10, 2011).