Pennsylvania District Turns Into 'Saudi Arabia of Natural Gas' Ahead of Tuesday Primary

Oil and water don't mix. But oil and politics certainly do. And that's what the candidates in Tuesday's special election in Pennsylvania's 12th District hope to capitalize on as the race offers a potential glimpse into the mood of the electorate nearly six months before the midterm election.

Both Democrat Mark Critz and Republican Tim Burns are echoing each other in their comments about the potential energy wealth that could be tapped in the southwestern Pennsylvania district.

"Western Pennsylvania could become the energy capital of the world," Critz said Sunday on the campaign trail.

"We could be the energy capital of the world," Burns said at a separate event. "I tell people the solution to America's energy independence is right here in the 12th District."

The talk of Pennsylvania's energy dominance comes as a gigantic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico forces a nationwide debate about energy production, oil independence and the environmental strains of offshore drilling.

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The spill is so prominent it has nearly wiped from public memory any discussion about the safety practices and environmental soundness of coal production that followed last month's deadly coal mine collapse in West Virginia.

As BP struggles to cap the well spewing into the Gulf, later this week a key House committee could start to depose key figures involved in April's coal mine collapse in West Virginia that killed 29 people.

But in western Pennsylvania, where the first oil well in the United States was built and coal mining is still a way of life, both the spill and the mine disaster are the backdrop for the debate about where the country should turn to satisfy its energy needs.

Both candidates have highlighted the potential boon for the area through energy production, which translates into jobs in a part of the country that has lost much of its blue-collar job base over the past 20 years.

"We have coal. We have Marcellus shale gas. We have solar power down in Mt. Pleasant. We have wind power with Gamessa up in Ebensburg and we have nuclear with Westinghouse up north of Pittsburgh," said Critz.

"We have the two largest coal mines in the world in this district," said Burns in an interview with Fox News. "And huge reserves of natural gas. This has been called the 'Saudi Arabia of natural gas' right here in western Pennsylvania."

Pennsylvania ranks 30th in per capita energy production and produced nearly 4 percent of the country's total energy needs in 2007, with 3.6 percent of the country's total oil production in 2008.

But just as western Pennsylvania may be the "Saudi Arabia of natural gas," other regions are trying to present alternative energy solutions to replace imported petroleum from the oil-rich Middle East kingdom.

Oklahoma has been called the "Saudi Arabia of wind;" West Virginia is "the Saudi Arabia of coal."

Wyoming was previously declared the "Saudi Arabia of natural gas" and Iowa has drawn the moniker of being the "Saudi Arabia of ethanol," due to its extensive corn production.

Both candidates have said they oppose the climate bill that is idling in Congress, with Critz saying the legislation passed in the House "would have a negative impact on jobs and working families. He has said he wants to expand domestic drilling as part of "a long-term strategy" toward U.S. energy independence.

As for Burns, he says he will "fight off harmful legislation like cap-and-trade and stop the EPA from killing coal jobs through over-regulation." He instead has applauded a bill authored by Democratic Sen. Bob Casey that he says would eliminate some federal regulation and clear the way for energy production.

Polls in the district show the candidates have drawn within a point of each other and within the varying margins of error.

Fox News' Gretchen Gaily and Sarah Courtney contributed to this report.