Energy-starved Chile covets Pennsylvania's natural gas

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SANTIAGO, Chile -- If the Pennsylvania trade delegation heard a message on its first day in Chile, a growing economy without sufficient or reliable energy sources, it was an unabashed interest in the state's natural gas.

That interest was clear during a meeting Friday with officials of the Chilean energy ministry. When the head of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, Secretary C. Alan Walker, said the state will become an exporter of natural gas, a high-ranking Chilean official responded: "Not now?"

"Why?" said Sergio del Campo Fayet, the vice minister of energy. "Because we are waiting for it."

Chile's combination of mostly imported fossil fuels -- coal is purchased from Colombia, the vice minister said -- and hydroelectric has left the country without a stable energy portfolio to meet increasing demand.

At a luncheon meeting with Gov. Tom Corbett and other participants on the trade mission, Chilean business leaders said the natural gas boom in the United States makes them hopeful.

As a translator murmured to the side, Mr. Corbett told the businessmen that, with the right processing facilities, Pennsylvania could become a source for other countries.

"It is clear that we are going to, at some point in time not too far from now, begin export of natural gas," he said, explaining that threats of closure of Philadelphia refineries had been averted when the state found a purchaser.

"They are definitely looking at creating a [liquefied natural gas] plant that would be able to export," he said.

Robert Powelson, chairman of Pennsylvania's Public Utility Commission, suggested that Chilean officials tell the U.S. government of their desire to import natural gas.

"You can help us help you," he said.

The delegation arrived in the capital city from Sao Paulo, where Mr. Corbett and others promoted Pennsylvania as a location for Brazilian investment and small businesses pitched their products to prospective export clients. At a morning briefing, participants were told of Chile's stable economy and numerous agreements smoothing the way for trade.

At the afternoon energy meeting, Mr. del Campo, the vice minister, reiterated that message.

"From the political point of view, we don't have a discussion about how to conduct the economy. It's a market economy," he said. "In that sense, you have clear rules. We are a small country, but a serious country."

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