Policy

Staying engaged: Q & A with government relations coordinator Gary Slagel



When Gary Slagel graduated with a degree in engineering from the University of Dayton, he never thought he’d end up working in the energy industry. But that’s where he’s spent the past three decades.

Mr. Slagel, 64, is a government relations coordinator for Steptoe & Johnson, an energy-focused law firm with operations in Canonsburg. Before that, he was director of environmental regulatory affairs for Consol Energy and director of government affairs for CNX Gas.

“When I came to Consol, I had no expectations that I would morph into what I morphed into,” Mr. Slagel said. “You come out of college as an engineer and think you’re going to solve the problems of the world. I haven’t done any engineering for the last 35 years.”

Mr. Slagel retired from Consol in 2012 and and was offered a position with the law firm not long after. “I pretty much knew walking out the door I was going to stay engaged in the business in some form or fashion.”

But he didn’t always feel that way.

Even though he grew up in Western Pennsylvania, he had little interest in coal. It wasn’t until he moved back to Pennsylvania and took a job with Consolidated Coal, now Consol, in 1976, that his passion for energy grew.

Mr. Slagel began his energy career as an engineer working on environmental issues. He then made his way into policy, where he dealt with proposals and worked with trade associations.

Then, a new source of natural gas entered the scene.

“The legacy of coal mining in Pennsylvania and West Virginia was a hard thing to overcome,” he said.

“I was living that dream for about a year and a half until the two words happened that changed my perspective: shale gas. I find now the issues and misinterpretation associated with shale gas are far worse than anything I had to deal with on the coal side,” he said.

Mr. Slagel is chairman of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association. He also works with the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Technical Advisory board, part of the Department of Environmental Protection, and with another oil and gas trade group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition. 

Q: What have been some of the most rewarding and most frustrating aspects of your career?

A: The most rewarding would have to be working on something and seeing it come to a fair and equitable resolution, one you know the industry can live with where the environment is going to be productive. The other is being chairman of PIOGA and helping steer that organization. 

Frustrating facts are dealing with misinformation. It’s probably worse than I’ve ever seen it. It’s difficult for me to understand why people are willing to come forward with little or no understanding of the issue and make negative statements.

The industry is basically judged by its weakest link. Some of the early issues created by companies that weren’t doing what I would consider best practices created an environment where people don’t believe we can develop a resource like shale gas in an environmental way.

And I see so much effort made by companies to do things in an environmental way. It’s impressive to see how the industry had advanced in that regard. But incidents that happened 10 years ago still seem to be the norm for people to judge what we do.

Q: Have you ever been involved in an issue where you felt there would be no compromise?

A: I was involved in the Deep Mine Mediation project. It was an effort to look at the existing underground mining law in Pennsylvania and work toward a compromise with multiple groups so we could amend the law to accommodate longwall mining.

In exchange for amending the law, the coal industry was willing to take responsibility for any impacts on the surface. We sat in a mediation effort for four years to come up with a bill to accommodate everyone’s interest. In the last couple of minutes we had some people pull out and back away from the bill. It took another three years to get the bill through the legislative process.

I really thought we had wasted four years when we reached the point where those participants bailed out on us.

Q: What is your biggest weakness?

A: Is it something as mundane as potato chips and ice cream? I maybe can be impatient at times. I jump to some conclusions I need to just step away from and better analyze before I take a position on something.

Madasyn Czebiniak: mczebiniak@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1269. Twitter: @PG_Czebiniak

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