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4 Things To Watch For At The Marcellus Shale Coalition's Philadelphia Conference

  • Scott Detrow
Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A Tioga County drilling rig.

If you’re anyone who has anything to do with drilling for natural gas in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, then you’ll likely be at the Philadelphia Convention Center on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The drilling industry’s top trade group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, is hosting “Shale Gas Insight,” a two-day conference “that will offer abundant opportunities for industry stakeholders to gain insight into techniques to advance best practices and shape public policy,” according to its website.
To put that another way: top energy executives will spend two days mingling with state and federal officials, discussing what happens next, when it comes to developing gas drilling, and authoring the laws that regulate it.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition says more than 1,500 people will attend the conference, which will feature presentations from more than 70 people. Panels will discuss federal regulation – or lack thereof – of drilling, environmental safety issues, and even strategies energy companies can use when dealing with the media. You can view a full schedule of events here.

At the same time, hundreds – if not thousands – of drilling opponents will gather outside the convention center to protest hydraulic fracturing.
There’s a lot going on, and StateImpact will provide full coverage, on the web and on the radio. To bring you up to speed, here are four things to look for this week.
 Who Will Crash The Party?
The Shale Gas Insight convention has spawned a full calendar of counter-programming, dubbed “Shale Gas Outrage.” A coalition of environmental groups has joined forces in the effort, which will feature an anti-drilling march and rally on Wednesday, and a “Freedom from Fracking” conference on Thursday. Speakers include Gasland director Josh Fox and several local lawmakers.
We know what to expect from these protests. The big wild card, though, is how many “fractivists” will infiltrate the Shale Gas Insight conference, and try to disrupt speeches. The Marcellus Shale Coalition is bracing for interruptions: in an email sent out to conference participants last week, the group provided pointers on how to handle heckling:  “If you are presenting and a conference attendee interrupts your comments, a session monitor will approach the individual and ask for the disruption to cease.  If he/she does not comply, security will be summoned.  It is best for presenters to step back from the microphone during the disruption and security response.If a person close to you becomes disruptive during a presentation, do not personally intervene.  If security is not in the immediate vicinity they will be close by — find a security member and request their assistance.”
What Will Corbett Say?
It’s been 46 days since the panel Governor Corbett charged with setting his Marcellus Shale policies issued its 96 recommendations. Since then, the Republican has stayed relatively mum on the issue, issuing vague statements that don’t shed much light on which proposals he backs, and which ones he’ll reject. The governor will deliver a speech to the conference at 12:30 on Thursday. Will he use the occasion to spell out his parameters for a drilling impact fee, or voice support for other commission proposals?
Welcome Back, Tom and Ed
Speaking of governors… two of Corbett’s recent predecessors, Republican Tom Ridge and Democrat Ed Rendell, will also address the conference. Ridge, of course, spent a year as the Marcellus Shale Coalition’s top Harrisburg lobbyist, and even appeared on the Colbert Report to defend drilling. He and the MSC parted ways this summer, but Ridge remains a vocal supporter of natural gas drilling. Given that track record, Ridge’s speech likely won’t offer any surprises.

Getty Images

Former Governor Ed Rendell at a June wedding

Governor Rendell, however, is always a wild card. The conference speech will be his most high-profile return to Pennsylvania policy issues in the nine months since he’s left office, and turned his focus to, well, pretty much everything under the sun. Most drilling opponents have focused their attention on Corbett – specifically the campaign contributions he received from drilling companies, and his opposition to a natural gas severance tax. The “fractivists” tend to forget that aside from support for a gas levy, Rendell was just as big of a gas booster as his successor. The Democrat leased nearly 140,000 acres of state forest land for drilling, opposed calls for a fracking moratorium, and, in 2009, took the option for a severance tax off the table during stalled negotiations over a state budget. Will Rendell praise drilling’s economic impact? Or call for tighter regulations and an impact fee or severance tax?
How’s That Whole “Texas of Natural Gas Drilling” Thing Going?
Philadelphia’s Convention Center will be jam-packed this week with energy executives and drilling stakeholders. Is this a sign that Pennsylvania really is becoming, as Governor Corbett has hoped for, “the Texas of natural gas drilling?” As last week’s Energy Information Agency chart illustrates, Pennsylvania really is becoming a keystone – for lack of a better term – of northeastern energy production. What needs to happen in the public and private sector for that trend to continue? And is the drilling industry on-board with the tighter regulations environmental activists are calling for? Or will drillers continue to push back against proposals like impact fees, federal fracking disclosure laws, and stricter standards? We’ll let you know if a consensus emerges on any of these fronts.

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