Pennsylvania’s natural gas executives recently launched a new drive to build public support for the industry that has generated thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue for the state but is viewed with skepticism or outright opposition by some people.
“Learn About Shale”, a new website, is targeted at consumers in the five counties of metropolitan Philadelphia, an area that has not experienced the intensive gas development seen in many other areas of the state during the gas boom of the last five years, but which contains 45 percent of state’s population and contains strong resistance to the gas industry in some quarters.
The new campaign, which aims to answer public questions on the industry, follows an earlier “Ask About Shale” initiative in which executives listened to public concerns in an effort to counter persistent reports that energy companies contaminate air and water with hazardous chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process.
The website, www.learnaboutshale.org, allows users to answer questions including “How Safe is Fracking?”, “What Chemicals Are Used in the Fracking Solution” and “What Types of Job Opportunities Will be Available?”
There is no economic opportunity for which jeopardizing our water quality is acceptable.” – Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter
Executives pledged to approach the initiative in a spirit of humility. “We will not be dismissive of what we perceive to be non-legitimate concerns,” said K. Scott Roy, Vice President of Government and Regulatory Affairs for Range Resources.
From the industry’s point of view, the chemical composition of fracking fluids is no longer an issue since companies such as Range publicly disclose the chemicals, said its Executive Chairman, John Pinkerton.
“There is nothing in there that is harmful in any way,” he said during Shale Gas Insight, the industry’s annual conference on development of the Marcellus Shale and the associated gas reserves that underlie about two-thirds of Pennsylvania. “The issue of frack fluids is off the table.”
But Pinkerton said the industry should have been more transparent about the process earlier than it was, and that it has “underreported” the vast scale of the natural gas resource in Pennsylvania and across the U.S.
The outreach initiative was launched by the Marcellus Coalition, an industry group, and is backed by Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, and the state’s Public Utility Commission, whose chairman, Robert Powelson, urged people to reject the claims of fracking opponents.
“There is a lot of misinformation around this resource,” Powelson said at a news conference.
On a day when conference attendees were heckled on their way into the Pennsylvania Convention Center by anti-fracking protesters, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter echoed local concerns about the safety of fracking when he told delegates that economic development is not worth the price of contaminated water.
“Many of us are deeply concerned about natural gas drilling that could compromise river water quality in the Delaware River watershed,” Nutter said in a speech. “There is no economic opportunity for which jeopardizing our water quality is acceptable.”
Some Philadelphia residents fear contamination to the public water supply if a moratorium on fracking is allowed to expire in the Delaware River basin, the source of drinking water to some 15 million people in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.
To help build public trust, Nutter urged the industry to fund a Delaware River early warning system for any spills or accidents, to fund a bond for future restoration of forests cleared for gas-drilling pads and pipelines, and to pay for upstream environmental monitoring.