Friday, August 20, 2010

Did fear of protests cancel shale gas driller's conference?

Photo: Dick Blume/The Post-Standard

The gas-drilling industry was planning a big conference in Pittsburgh on Oct. 1. to showcase the Marcellus Shale’s "economic and energy production potential."

The Marcellus Coalition promised appearances not only by former governor Tom Ridge (now an industry lobbyist), and energy industry biggies like Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon and Range Resources CEO John Pinkerton, but also Pennsylvania's two primary gubernatorial candidates --Dan Onorato and Tom Corbett.

The conference was designed to win positive attention from the financial community, state political leaders, the media and voters for natural gas drilling in general and particularly for the controversial hydrofracturing technique which has made natural gas so accessible and its extraction so lucrative.

But the announcement of the upcoming event also appeared as a giant blip on the radar screen of environmentalists who oppose gas drilling--and especially the "fracking" technique which they fear will contaminate groundwater and pollute surface streams and other water bodies. (For a summary of  their concerns, see: Gasland)

The activists immediately began organizing protests to be held outside the event at the convention center.

Now, without the fanfare with which it was announced, the conference has been canceled.

Chris Potter wrote yesterday in the Pittsburgh City Paper that:

"for all appearances, it's as if the summit was never scheduled at all. The coalition Web page that once touted the summit now produces a 404 error. (Though a cached version of it can be found here.) No other mention of it appears on the site."

Potter asked what role the planned protests had in the decision to cancel.

"None whatsoever," said Travis Windle, a coalition spokesman, who said the decision was based on "a host of logistical issues" including several competing events."

That could be the case.  But we suspect that coalition leaders had at least three larger concerns in mind, namely, that:

     -   A planned public hearing on 'fracking' was canceled last week in New York by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after rumors of thousands of protestors arriving by bus scared the pants off officials of a university where the event was to be held.

    -  Environmental activists in Pennsylvania made no secret of the fact that the convention center event provided a big, juicy, symbolic target of what they see as corporate interests all too willing to overlook public and environemtnal health for large profits.

   -  With public concern over fracking on the rise, Pennsylvania legislators (who until now have generally played the role of industry cheerleaders) are being asked to consider bills that would impose a moratorium on gas drilling until the EPA completes a study whether it needs to be regulated.

Logistical issues aside, we imagine that coalition leaders did a quick PR risk assessment and concluded that this was neither the time or the place for a feel good conference on drilling for dollars.

Our most recent posts:
Battling for the Bays--Barnegat and Rehoboth 
That relocated EPA fracking hearing, scratch it!
Suppose EPA held a hearing and everybody came
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