AS NATURAL GAS industry leaders gathered in Philadelphia late last week for the Marcellus Shale Coalition's annual conference, two points were emphasized repeatedly.
The first was that the gas industry stands at the cusp of a breakthrough; that the abundance of cheap, domestic gas could kick-start American manufacturing, provide stability to the nation's economy and enhance national security while providing hundreds of thousands more jobs. Undeniably, the gas industry has injected billions into Pennsylvania's economy, put money in the pockets of rural landowners, encouraged the expansion of existing businesses and spurred the creation of new ones, providing jobs for tens if not hundreds of thousands of workers. And the industry made a compelling case that the economic promise of the Marcellus is simply too big for Pennsylvania to let pass.
The second point was that the gas industry could have done more to promote itself – to educate the public about the safety of its operations – upon its arrival in Pennsylvania, and that it is ramping up its efforts to do so now. The coalition launched a new educational effort at the conference – a website called "Learn about Shale" that provides answers to 600 questions about the industry and its operations submitted by the public – in an effort to address the concerns of people, particularly in urban areas such as the conference's host city of Philadelphia.
Clearly the industry has more work ahead on this front, both in Philadelphia and closer to home. Hundreds of protesters rallied outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center on Sept. 20 and a smaller group hurled insults in the faces of attendees as they entered the conference last Friday. And while the coalition acknowledged that it should address all concerns about its operations, several speakers also marginalized the protesters as members of a small but vocal minority. At the close of the conference, its final keynote speaker, former GE Chairman Jack Welch, had harsher words for these outspoken opponents of drilling. He called them "terrorists" who had built "an industry" on opposing the work of energy companies.
That depiction stands at odds with the opposition movement that has developed locally.
Last month close to 200 residents turned out to tell the Luzerne County Zoning Hearing Board that they did not want a pipeline company to build a gas compressor station in West Wyoming, and they surely had support from many more Luzerne County residents who didn't attend that meeting and from elected leaders. The West Wyoming Borough Council, state Rep. Phyllis Mundy and Sen. John Yudichak all opposed the station. It is hard to believe that many in Luzerne County would see those people as terrorists or believe they stand to profit financially by opposing a compressor station.
The zoning board hearing followed a pattern of opposition seen in Dallas Township last year and at more recent hearings in neighboring counties. There is more to opposition of the gas industry in Northeastern Pennsylvania than a minority of professional environmentalists or witless yahoos. There are business professionals, homeowners, parents, doctors, teachers and government leaders with deep-seated concerns for their health and quality of life, and if the gas industry hopes to sway those people to its side – to support the industry for the good it says it can do – it still has a long road ahead.
There is more to opposition of the gas industry in Northeastern Pennsylvania than a minority of
environmentalists or witless yahoos.