Pennsylvania's top drilling trade group going grassroots
Members of the Marcellus Shale Coalition are used to walking past chanting protestors with signs decrying fracking. Now, Pennsylvania’s top gas drilling trade group is embracing the tactics of grassroots organizing with a new advocacy initiative to promote shale development.
United Shale Advocates was launched at an event in northeast Pennsylvania last week and is being billed as “an online neighborhood for committed advocates of shale gas and those who want to learn more about the industry,” according to the website.
At the launch, held at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, MSC president David Spigelmyer told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette it is a citizens campaign aimed at amplifying the voices of everyday Pennsylvanians who support shale gas development.
More from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
United Shale Advocates does not have a specific policy platform, Mr. Spigelmyer said, but in announcing the initiative in Wilkes-Barre he criticized “some candidates and officeholders” who “would choose to saddle the industry with higher, job-crushing taxes and regulatory changes that would push job-creators out of the commonwealth.”
Speakers at the launch event addressed an audience of Marcellus Shale Coalition member company employees, affiliates and guests, but United Shale Advocates wants to enlist people who were not in the hotel ballroom: those who like the industry but don’t necessarily work for it.
MSC spokesman Steve Forde says that includes landowners, hunters and fishers, small business owners and natural gas consumers.
“It’s a big tent and it’s meant to bring in as many supporters of shale development as possible and we know that are out there,” he said.
Since the coalition was formed in 2008, it has served as the public face of the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania. Its staffers work to influence drilling-related legislation, stage conferences and educational events on gas extraction, and represent the industry in the press.
The coalition’s annual industry conference, which has been held in Philadelphia the last three years, is typically bombarded with anti-fracking protestors who hold rallies, press conferences and educational events in response.
Forde said United Shale Advocates is “a way to certainly respond to the small, but certainly often effective and certainly vocal opponents of shale development.” The coalition is planning a march and rally at the statehouse in Harrisburg on May 6.
The Post-Gazette spoke with UCLA sociology professor Edward Walker, whose forthcoming book explores how industries employ organizing tools from their anti-corporate opponents:
United Shale Advocates seems to be building a movement that can later be activated to respond to specific policy proposals or debates while also demonstrating the industry’s concern for local people, he said.
“Part of what they are doing is trying to build up the general legitimacy of the industry and suggest that the jobs are in fact helping the local economy in this direct way,” he said.
Spokesman Steve Forde admits that potential members of United Shale Advocates may differ with the Marcellus Shale Coalition on certain issues, such as natural gas exports or efforts in Harrisburg to prevent companies from shortchanging landowners on royalty money.
However, proponents of shale gas will have a role to play as election season heats up and democratic opponents of Republican Governor Tom Corbett call for a severance tax on shale gas. In his reelection campaign, Corbett is promoting the state’s impact fee, which sends money back to the communities that host the drilling.
Forde says United Shale Advocates is a “tactical” effort by the MSC to make the case to citizens and communities to speak up.
“We’re asking them to engage with our local and state officials to make sure the message is being heard from as many diverse stakeholders as possible.”