Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Gas industry nervously awaits outcome of governor’s race

Marcellus Shale Coalition President David Spigelmyer

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

"If there's a change-- and the electorate will determine that-- we'll work with Governor Wolf," says David Spigelmyer, president of the gas industry trade group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition."But today our administration is a Corbett administration, and we've worked hard to make sure we have rigor to our rules in Pennsylvania."

When members of Pennsylvania’s largest gas industry trade group got together for their annual conference last week they were a bit worried.

Why?

Anyone paying attention to voter polls or listening to the rhetoric coming out of Harrisburg knows there is the very real possibility of two major changes for the gas industry— a new Democrat in the governor’s mansion and a new tax on gas production.

The elephant in the room

It’s not surprising to see famous names on the list of scheduled speakers for the Shale Insight conference. Last year Newt Gingrich made an appearance. This year the Marcellus Shale Coalition booked conservative Fox News host Sean Hannity.

It was his job to warm up the crowd of several hundred business people over lunch at Pittsburgh’s David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

“How many of you are conservative here?” Hannity asked the audience. “Just a show of hands.”

A lot of hands shot up.

“Alright. How many are liberal? Here little liberal, liberal, liberal,” he teased. “There’s always one.”

About half a dozen hands went up. He pointed to a woman.

“What’s your name?” he asked. She said Tara.

“Tara!” he shouted. “Everybody say hi to Tara the liberal!”

Hannity wasn’t the first speaker to make jokes about the lopsided political representation at the conference. Former New Mexico governor, U.S. energy secretary, and one time Democratic candidate for President Bill Richardson promised the crowd earlier that day he wouldn’t be too partisan in his speech.

“I know the only Democrats in here are myself and that guy back there in the kitchen,” he laughed. “So don’t worry!”

But all joking aside, there was a palpable sense of concern among this pro-business, conservative crowd.  With election day just a few weeks away, Governor Corbett’s Democratic challenger Tom Wolf has a wide lead in the polls, and he’s made a campaign pledge to enact a new tax on gas production.

“We pay our fair share”

Jim Tramuto is the vice president of government and regulatory strategies for Southwestern Energy. He says the current tax system is working.

Governor Corbett signed it into law in 2012. It requires gas companies to pay an impact fee for each well they drill. So far it’s brought in about $210 million per year. Most of the money stays with the communities where drilling occurs.

York County businessman Tom Wolf wants to enact a new five percent tax on gas production, which he says he’d use to fund education. Tramuto doesn’t think that’s a good idea.

“We pay our fair share,” he says. “I think it’d be a mistake to look to our industry as the only funding source for all programs at the state level.”

A recent survey shows a majority of Pennsylvanians support the drilling industry, but most also want to see a tax on gas production. Pennsylvania is the largest gas-producing state without one.

Even some Republican leaders think the tax is inevitable.

Former Governor Tom Ridge told the conference crowd he expects it will happen after the election, and the state senate’s top Republican leader, Dominic Pileggi (R- Delaware) was recently quoted saying it’s coming sooner or later.

All this has prompted the gas industry to fight back in a new TV, radio, and print ad campaign. The commercials were unveiled the first day of the conference. The industry is attempting to reclaim the word “fracking” from environmental opponents who have tried to give it a negative connotation.

Marcellus Shale Coalition President David Spigelmyer says the campaign also reminds people natural gas companies have created jobs and generated revenue for the state.

“Certainly the election season has heightened this issue,” he says. “So we felt necessary as a board of directors of the MSC that we needed to set the record straight.”

“I want them to stay”

The gas industry isn’t alone in its concern over potential changes to state tax policy.

Shirl Barnhart is a Democratic supervisor for Morgan Township, in Greene County. He’s also first vice president for the state Association of Township Supervisors. He says when the gas boom first began, it felt like his community was invaded. Later, drillers threatened to leave over the notion of paying the impact fee.

“At that time I said, ‘I’ll help you pack.’ But now that the impact fee’s in, they’re giving back to the community. I want them to stay.”

Barnhart’s worried if Wolf is elected, his community could lose that money.

“I’m not a big fan of Tom Corbett to start with, but Tom Wolf really scares me.”

He’s still not sure who he’ll vote for.

“I’m still up in the air,” he says. “But I’m not leaning toward Tom Wolf right now, I’ll tell you that.”  

Wolf didn’t get a chance to explain his ideas at this year’s conference, because he wasn’t invited. The Marcellus Shale Coalition says its policy is to invite the sitting governor. The two-day event ended with a chat between Governor Corbett and Marcellus Shale Coalition president David Spigelmyer. He thanked the governor for his support of the industry and wished him good luck with the election.

It will be up to voters next month to decide who gets an invitation to next year’s conference.

Comments

  • Jack Wolf

    Job’s? What jobs? And, as to the survey, I don’t think 411 people is a large enough sample here in PA especially when so many of the negative impacts of fracking are not particularly well covered in the media.

    • Victoria Switzer

      State Impact is the only place for news now that the big local paper lost their best reporter. When DEP released determination letters we thought it would be a big story-because it is-yet there was little if any coverage in the local news where the contaminations had taken place! Another great site is Marcellusgas.org. That team puts the statistics on line and it is an easy site to use. Ignorance is not bliss but it sure works for the gas industry.

  • JimBarth

    As former Vice-President of Chesepeake, in charge of government relations, David Spigelmyer knows of what he says: ” we’ve worked hard to make sure we have rigor to our rules in Pennsylvania.”. Unfortunately, it is the kind of “rigor” achieved by the use of Viagra as the industry gives it to the rear end of the citizens of Pennsylvania.
    As he then goes on to say, little one term governor Corbett, the butt licker to the industry, is the governor of the industry.
    That Jim Tramuto, whoever that alien invader is, says the industry has paid their “fair share”, is mind bogglingly empty rhetoric. Compared to the citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the shale gas extraction industry has paid nothing.
    Go back to Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and continue to frac those states into non-existence. Take your Governor Corbett, who wanted to turn our state into Texas, with you.
    If Wolf turns into Rendell, we will bury him in four years as well.
    If we don’t stand up to this extraction industry now, we might as well turn into the New Jersey Turnpike. I, for one, would like to prevent that.

  • paulroden

    The dirty fossil fuel industry is saying the same things about fracking that the nuclear industry and electric utility industries said about nuclear power and it’s alternatives: renewable energy. They are brainwashing the public to believe that fracking is safe, clean, economical, needed as a “transition fuel” and for our” energy independence.” Remember when they said that “atomic power would be too cheap to meter?” We know these are all lies, and yet they continue to broadcast them. The dirty energy industry is threatened by renewable energy because they will loose profits, economic and political power. Contrary to their propaganda, we have the technology and the resources to get off both fossil fuel and nuclear power now. Check out thesolutionsproject.org. All we lack is the political will to do so because they have bought off both political parties politicians and candidates.

  • kenneth weir

    The foxes and wolves are licking their chops at getting T-bone steak or chicken. What is the difference ? A republicrat will win the election and the people are going to pay the price. Socializing the costs and privatizing the profits, we lose and they win..

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