Former Gov. Ed Rendell told a group of environmentalists that he believes natural gas drilling can be done safely, but he would back a continued delay in drilling along the Delaware River.
“I would support putting a moratorium on the Delaware Basin right now,” Rendell said. “But we’ve gotta look at it and continue to go forward. We can’t just say stop, because stop would mean more petroleum, more coal-fired power plants.”
Rendell spoke at a clean energy conference sponsored by PennFuture in downtown Philadelphia Friday. He was responding to a question from Ralph Kisberg, with the Responsible Drilling Alliance. Kisberg wants the state to slow down the drilling boom in order to study environmental effects.
Rendell was a big supporter of natural gas development while he was governor, and he still is.
“Look, if we stop gas production, we’re going to have petroleum,” Rendell said. “There are no easy answers.”
As governor, Rendell did not support a moratorium along the Delaware. But it’s not the first time his vision of shale gas development has seemed mercurial. While governor, he leased hundreds of thousands of acres of state forest land to drilling companies, only to impose a moratorium on drilling in state forests right before he left office. And at last year’s industry conference in Philadelphia, he surprised everyone by scolding the conference attendees for not taking environmental issues seriously.
Still, Rendell warned the room full of environmentalists on Friday that their anti-fracking message could easily alienate people who have benefitted from gas drilling.
“There are people in the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania who were consigned to the fact that they would die poor and have nothing to pass on to their children,” he said, adding that gas drilling has improved the economic lives of rural Pennsylvanians.
“When the environmental community takes positions that to the average person seem to be anti-economic growth, we lose them.”
Rendell later acknowledged that a drilling moratorium on one side of the state could also create friction.
“One thing about Pennsylvania,” he said, “you can’t do one thing in the east, one thing in the west, and then one thing in the center. That’s how the anti-Philadelphia bias occurs.”
A de facto drilling moratorium already exists in the Delaware River Basin while the multi-state Basin Commission remains at an impasse over new regulations. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has been pushing the Delaware River Basin Commission to lift the moratorium and allow drilling.