PhillyDeals: Latvia says it wants Pa. gas

Laimdota Straujuma, prime minister of Latvia, met business leaders in Phila.
Laimdota Straujuma, prime minister of Latvia, met business leaders in Phila.
Posted: May 13, 2014

Sell us your Pennsylvania gas, please, said the prime minister.

And thanks for the American troops, she added. All 150 of them, newly arrived in her country. Plus their NATO friends from Europe.

Send more, if you can, added Her Excellency Mrs. Laimdota Straujuma, prime minister of the Republic of Latvia, who was in Philadelphia recently, meeting with energy leaders and other business people, trying to find her nation's way in a tough neighborhood.

Could her need, and the needs of other ex-Soviet republics scared by Russia's partial invasion of Ukraine, work to Philadelphia's advantage?

Straujuma's little republic, with a population not much larger than Philadelphia's, spread across land half the size of Pennsylvania, is allied with Europe, but borders Russia, its former occupier.

Because Russian troops have taken over pieces of Ukraine, Straujuma naturally focuses on strengthening Latvia's independence.

"I don't know who can stop [Vladimir] Putin, besides the USA," she said.

Which means diversifying its fuel sources: "At present, we are dependent 100 percent on Russian gas," she said at the Union League on a visit May 2, flanked by her ambassador to Washington, Andris Razans, and Philly's honorary Latvian consul, John Medveckis, whose day job is at the investment house of Cooke & Bieler in Center City.

Qatar, in the Persian Gulf, has offered to sell Latvia liquefied natural gas. But the Pennsylvania energy people she met with - she won't say whom - have offered to sell her gas more cheaply if they can get government approvals.

Despite all the Marcellus Shale wells that have enriched upstate farmers and drawn out-of-state truckers and drillers, Pennsylvania's economy and workforce are still declining, relative to the U.S. as a whole. That's a puzzle: Shouldn't cheap gas attract industries that employ skilled workers, engineers, and managers?

Cheap gas is definitely attractive to energy export interests. Sunoco Logistics, Carlyle Group, and others are rebuilding Delaware River facilities to handle new volumes and varieties of fuel, and probing ways to get more here by pipeline and railcar.

Straujuma has some tough decisions ahead. She needs to build pipelines, for one thing. Meanwhile, "It's very important for us that the USA will be in Latvia. We want that you keep pressure on Russia," she concluded.

The choices of other nations, and their U.S. energy suppliers, will affect us in Pennsylvania. Can everybody win? That's not clear. Large-scale gas exports will presumably boost our current cheap gas prices to world levels. How will that help local consumers and other gas-users?


JoeD@phillynews.com

215-854-5194

@PhillyJoeD

www.inquirer.com/phillydeals

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