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Shale gas opponents shout down industry speaker at Philadelphia LNG session

Philadelphia City Councilman David Oh hosted a forum on LNG exports at Drexel University.

Emma Lee / Newsworks

Philadelphia City Councilman David Oh hosted a forum on LNG exports at Drexel University.

Anti-fracking protestors late Thursday disrupted a public information session on the possibility of building a liquefied natural gas export terminal in Philadelphia, shouting down speakers from the industry and finally being ejected by security officers.

About half a dozen protestors repeatedly interrupted an opening presentation at Drexel University by Jason French, Director of Government and Public Affairs for Cheniere Energy which is building two LNG export terminals in Louisiana and Texas at a combined cost of $34 billion.

“We are not interested in hearing from this liar,” one protestor shouted at French as he began his presentation. Another accused the industry of wanting to create a “sacrifice zone” in its plans for a complex of refineries, petrochemical plants and oil and gas transportation facilities, known as the energy hub, in Philadelphia.

French made several attempts to restart his talk but was repeatedly shouted down by protestors who accused the company of wanting to “poison” air and water; of operating a “ponzi scheme” to profit from the people of Philadelphia, and of ignoring a “list of the harmed” containing names of some 6,000 people who say their health has suffered from unconventional gas development.

One protestor demanded that the event provide equal time for opponents of an LNG terminal to speak, and called for the agenda to include a discussion of public health.

But City Councilman David Oh, who chaired the discussion, refused to change the agenda, and told the protestors that they were preventing an informative session for most of the approximately 100 people attending the event, titled “LNG Exports – Exploring the Possibilities in Philadelphia.”

“The majority of people came here to listen and you are doing them a great disservice,” Oh said.

After disruptions lasting about half an hour, and repeated warnings to be quiet, four protestors were eventually removed by Drexel University security staff.

French said Cheniere has no plans to build an LNG export terminal in Philadelphia, but had come to the meeting from Texas in order to help the public understand the scale and nature of the projects.

Philadelphia’s energy hub would not necessarily include LNG exports but could provide cheaper natural gas for local manufacturing, and create jobs in allied industries such as pipelines and refining, French said.

Cheniere’s Louisiana terminal is creating 4,500 jobs during construction and will generate 600 permanent positions when operations begin, he said. In the Marcellus Shale, which produces more than a third of the nation’s unconventional natural gas, 86,000 jobs have been created in Pennsylvania since the fracking boom began in the mid-2000s, French said.

Although Philadelphia is well positioned to process and distribute Marcellus gas, that is unlikely to be in the form of LNG exports, argued Stephen Mullin, president of Econsult Solutions, which consults on public finance and policy analysis.

“Giant markets like India and China – that’s not the market that will be served by Philadelphia,” he said during a panel discussion on market analysis and investment.

Mullin noted that Philadelphia Gas Works, whose liquefaction facility might have the potential for conversion to an LNG export terminal, is a gas-distribution company, and so doesn’t have the expertise for proposed projects such as exports.

“Some of the things we are talking about are outside the core activities of PGW,” Mullin said.

John Hritcko, Senior Vice President at TRC, an engineering consultant to the oil and gas industry, said Philadelphia has some of the infrastructure and the location to become an interface between the Marcellus Shale and outside markets for natural gas, but needs to get public backing for any major build-out of energy infrastructure.

“There are challenges for development, not the least of which is public acceptance,” he said.

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