Thousands of supporters of natural gas development marched to the steps of the state Capitol in Harrisburg today. Estimates of up to 3,000 people from all over the state hopped on buses and turned out for the day-long event, hosted by the state’s main gas industry trade group—the Marcellus Shale Coalition.
Bob Beck works for a company called New Pig Energy, which builds liners to help contain spills.
He lives outside State College and came to the Capitol to show his support for what he feels is a misunderstood business.
“I think there’s a lot of people who really don’t understand the industry,” he says. “They feel there’s a lot of contamination that goes on. I don’t think really realize everything the industry does to prevent that from happening.”
Others at the rally felt the same way.
Wendy Driscoll works in business development for a Pittsburgh-based construction company that builds and maintains roads and gas wellpads.
“Everyone should be concerned about the environment and the oil and gas industry definitely has those concerns in mind,” she says. “I work in the industry and I’m thankful to be a part of it. I’ve only been in it for three years and it’s given me the opportunity to make a very good living.”
The rally began at Metro Bank Park on Harrisburg’s City Island, where supporters put on red, white, and blue t-shirts with the slogan, “Pennsylvania Jobs, Pennsylvania Energy.”
Ed Valentas is a land manager for Huntley & Huntley, a gas exploration company based outside Pittsburgh.
“This is—to Pittsburgh anyway—the steel industry on steroids. We need this.”
About 30,000 people in Pennsylvania work directly in oil and gas jobs and Valentas points out there are many other spillover effects.
“[Truck] drivers, laborers, welders, instrument people, electricians. Inside the company—HR, accounting. It’s pervasive. It trickles down.”
It’s difficult to quantify the overall jobs impact.
Industry boosters often cite a figure closer to 200,000– by counting workers in related industries—however that number has been called questionable by independent economists.
Environmental groups have also raised serious questions about shale gas development. A small group of anti-fracking protesters came out to participate in a counter-rally.
Arlene Taylor was among them. She’s a retired state worker who opposes gas drilling—she’s concerned about its effects on air and water quality.
She held up a sign that read, “You Can’t Drink Money.”
“It’d be wonderful if we could do this safely and have clean natural gas,” she says. “But right now that’s not what it is.”
Several other environmental groups hired an airplane to fly around the Capitol with the message that shale gas is a dirty form of energy.
“We didn’t feel it was appropriate to stage some kind of counter-rally,” says Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum. “We felt that using social media and the airplane was the best way to accomplish our goal to get people informed about shale.”
Marcellus Shale Coalition President Dave Spigelmeyer says that’s precisely why his group held the rally.
“Our opponents are passionate. They’re not many, but they’re passionate,” he says. “We wanted to show we have an equal amount of passion in broad segments of the Commonwealth that stand up and fight to continue to produce Pennsylvania energy.”
With the gubernatorial primaries just two weeks away, Spigelmyer says the message to Harrisburg is simple: this industry has broad support.
“We have a competitive playing field in Pennsylvania to invest capital, let’s celebrate that.”
Although Governor Corbett doesn’t not have a Republican challenger in the primary, all of his Democratic opponents favor some kind of a tax on gas extraction. A few Republican lawmakers have also stated support for such a levy.
Right now gas companies pay an impact fee for each well they drill. Over the past three years, the fees have brought in about $630 million.