Natural gas industry professionals and their critics will be crossing paths in downtown Philadelphia Thursday and Friday. But don’t expect the two groups to engage in a detente. Two thousand people are expected to attend the second annual Shale Gas Insight 2012 conference at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, generating more than $5 million in economic activity in the city. And hundreds of protestors will rally and march outside in the streets.
Gov. Tom Corbett speaks on Thursday morning, just before the competing Shale Gas Outrage starts rallying outside the Convention Center. On Wednesday, Corbett attended a different sort of energy event, the unveiling of a new logo at an oil refinery in Southwest Philadelphia that was recently saved from mothball status after a deal with the Carlyle Group kept the facility open. With all the fanfare of a ribbon-cutting, a drape over the newly named Philadelphia Energy Solutions dropped to reveal their name on a large tank. Gone was any reference to Sunoco, though the company still owns a 30 percent stake in the operation. Gov. Corbett says the event was about “jobs and energy,” supporting his goal of making Pennsylvania the “Texas of natural gas” production.
“I want to thank everybody for understanding the importance of this refinery,” said Corbett, “and the importance of energy not just in the southeast but throughout Pennsylvania. Because there is no doubt in my mind that we are now the energy state of the United States, and the energy capital of the entire world, and this refinery is a key component of that.”
State funds will help Philadelphia Energy Solutions build a rail car unloader to handle Bakken Shale crude oil shipments from North Dakota, and a cracker that will be fueled by Marcellus Shale gas. Corbett’s message to shale gas industry representatives will likely be just as optimistic about the state’s new energy producing role. His speech is entitled “Energy Equals Prosperity.”
But organizers of Shale Gas Outrage have a big name on their list of speakers this year, author and climate change activist Bill McKibben. During a press call earlier this week, McKibben told reporters that the world needs to move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible, and invest more in renewables. But he says the shale gas revolution is making that more difficult.
“None of this is easy,” said McKibben. “The point is each time we get a new source of hydrocarbons it makes it harder to go in that direction.”
McKibben will speak at a noon rally, which will lead to a march around Center City. Shale Gas Outrage will also host its own workshops and seminars, including a panel discussion on the public health impacts of natural gas drilling at the Pennsylvania College of Physicians.