Advocates rally for shale gas industry




HARRISBURG – Shale gas advocates used their fossil fuel of choice — natural gas — to power at least some of the buses that carried them from 13 counties to the state capital Tuesday for a rally to promote the booming industry.

The "Pennsylvania Jobs, Pennsylvania Energy" rally organized by the Marcellus Shale Coalition brought an estimated 3,000 people to the Capitol steps to represent the Pennsylvania companies and people benefiting from shale gas development.

"How about a little 'energy equals jobs' chant?" Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, prompted the crowd after it marched from City Island, across a bridge above the Susquehanna River and down the city streets.

The rally speeches shared a patriotic theme to match the red, white and blue logo of the coalition’s citizens' initiative, United Shale Advocates, or USA. Speakers included people representing manufacturers, conservationists, organized labor, farmers and others.

"Who here believes in freedom and the ability to retain our freedom?" Wayne County farmer Brian Smith asked. "Then you believe in natural gas."

Beth Powell, vice president and general manager of Blair County-based New Pig Energy, said her company makes its spill containment systems using U.S. raw materials and local labor, and it now exports products to Australia and China.

Seeing "huge blocks of manufacturing jobs" leave the state and country for decades, she said, "makes exporting an environmental product to China personally meaningful to me."

"Low-cost energy changes the playing field for manufacturing in Pennsylvania and in the United States," she said.

The rally was not held to promote or oppose particular policies — although several speakers urged the crowd to hold their elected representatives responsible for their positions — but it came as some lawmakers from both parties and Democratic candidates for governor are proposing taxing gas extraction to fund education and other programs.

David Davis, one of about 20 supporters who caught a bus to the rally in Washington County early Tuesday, said he has seen the positive difference drilling has made for his county. The owner of a communications business, Mr. Davis joined the rally to learn more about proposed laws and policies.

"I want to gain knowledge so I can understand what the concerns are," he said from his seat at the back of the bus.

A coalition of environmental groups picked up the USA theme by calling themselves United Shale Awareness and launching a website that details problems with drilling, USAwareness.org. The group chartered a plane to pull a banner above the rally that read, "Shale Gas = Dirty Energy" and directed onlookers to the website.

"The real people of the USA — not paid-for corporate hacks — support and want sustainable energy, not dirty fossil fuels," Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, said in a statement.

Laura Legere: llegere@post-gazette.com. Madasyn Czebiniak: mczebiniak@post-gazette.com, or 412-263-1269.

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