Gas drilling supporters fill Capitol steps - abc27 WHTM

Gas drilling supporters fill Capitol steps

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The politics of Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling were on full display in Harrisburg Tuesday.

At least a thousand supporters of the industry walked from City Island to the steps of the Capitol for a pro-drilling rally. They wore matching T-shirts and carried signs and filled the steps. Their presence was an attempt to show all state officials how important shale drilling is to the commonwealth.

The topic is politically toxic. Many believe that fracking pollutes the state's air and water and should be immediately banned. Others complain that gas drillers have manipulated the political system to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. But on this day, in this place, discouraging words were rarely heard.

This was a shale celebration.

"Five years ago, in 2008, we produced a quarter of Pennsylvania's natural gas demand out of the Marcellus," said Dave Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition. "Today we're producing 20 percent of America's natural gas demand. It's an incredible leap in a short period of time."

Gene Barr, president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, served as host for the hour-long rally.

"Energy equals jobs, energy equals jobs," Barr repeatedly chanted from the podium, hoping lawmakers in the building behind him were listening.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition insists 245,000 direct and indirect jobs have been created in Pennsylvania's natural gas boom. And not just jobs in the region with the gas. Business is booming at the Durabond facility in Steelton, which makes pipes that will carry the gas from the Marcellus region to points beyond.

Engineering firms have also cashed in. Hank Rettew of Rettew Engineering took to the microphone.

"We're headquartered in Lancaster County, not exactly in the center of the Marcellus Shale play," he said.

Dawood Engineering in Enola hired hundreds of workers, through the recession, because of gas drilling.

"We've designed hundreds of well-pad sites. We work on pipeline routing and design infrastructure," said Jim Rodgers of Dawood Engineering said. "We have an army of surveyors working all across this region that are based here in the Midstate working on Pennsylvania energy projects."

There were several protesters sprinkled among the drilling supporters. Some called for a moratorium. Paul Makurath of Lower Paxton Township doesn't go quite that far.

"I recognize the importance of it for jobs and local economies," Makurath said, "but I think it needs to be more heavily regulated and more heavily taxed."

All four Democrats running for governor are promising higher taxes on Marcellus drillers if elected. The drillers insist that's a bad idea.

"I would tell you we're being taxed fairly," Spigelmyer said. "And if we do have a competitive advantage we shouldn't let it go. West Virginia is probably the biggest champion of Pennsylvania being taxed. Their job growth has been slow. Their production growth has been slow. Pennsylvania has seen a rapid spike in job growth and gas production."

In a news release after the rally, the left-leaning Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center said gas drillers exaggerate their importance to the economy and renewed its call for an extraction tax.

“What the shale industry and its supporters promote is a bargain: jobs in exchange for lax environmental regulations and limited taxation. It is a bargain that the commonwealth would do well to avoid. We do not have to trade away tax revenue or environmental protections in exchange for jobs, and the industry, which is among the most profitable in the world, will thrive regardless," the statement added.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition says it has spent $2.1 billion in state and local taxes and an additional $630 million in local impact fees.

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