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Gas industry lobbying group to rally with shale supporters

The Marcellus Shale Coalition is accustomed to making its voice heard in Harrisburg as a top lobbyist for the gas industry.

On Tuesday, the group wants to provide a stage for supporters who organizers say haven’t been heard in what’s become a focus of debate this election year.

“Everywhere you go, there are people who want to support shale gas development. They want to have a voice,” said David J. Spigelmyer, president of the North Fayette-based trade group that is sponsoring the Pennsylvania Jobs, Pennsylvania Energy Rally.

The coalition and its spinoff, United Shale Advocates, are loading buses of supporters to march to the Capitol steps and hear speeches from industry leaders, landowners, union officials and others. Spigelmyer expects as many as 2,500 people to hear that the state’s booming gas industry is adding jobs — 245,000, including the supply chain, he says — and pumping money into the economy, including more than $600 million in impact fees in three years.

Wells in the Marcellus are producing a quarter of the nation’s natural gas and reviving refinery operations around the state, he and other supporters said.

“We’re equipping people there to be messengers for what Pennsylvania can become,” said the event’s emcee, Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. He said the industry is fighting “an incorrect environmental narrative” pushed by opponents.

Related: With United Shale Advocates, the Marcellus Shale Coalition bets on a ‘citizens’ movement’

One opponent says the industry won’t find much sympathy in Harrisburg.

“Their voice is being heard in the millions,” said state Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, referring to money spent on lobbying and television ads.

Ferlo last week introduced one of several bills aimed at increasing taxes on the industry. His proposal for a 5 percent severance tax based on the value of gas from wells to replace the flat impact fee levied on all wells would revamp the Act 13 drilling law.

He acknowledges the economic benefits that drilling brought to mostly rural counties but accuses drillers and the energy companies of being careless and working without proper oversight.

“I see a prairie fire of concern growing around the commonwealth,” he said.

Polling has shown residents are split.

“People think it’s a good thing. But they have issues with the way it’s being handled,” Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, said about drilling. “The extraction tax is popular.”

The four candidates running for the Democratic nomination for governor support a tax on drilling and have built TV ads around the issue, arguing the energy companies aren’t paying their fair share.

“People see those record revenues, the numbers are so large, they don’t know the return they’re getting,” Barr said.

The rally won’t focus on specific political proposals, Spigelmyer said.

Speakers “are going to talk about how the industry is making game-changing initiatives work in their worlds,” he said.

Raising those voices above the political din could be a challenge, Borick said.

“In our world of an overabundance of information, to crack the public attention on a staged event is harder than ever,” he said, estimating it would probably take 10,000 people on the Capitol steps to make a big statement.

David Conti is a staff writer at Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5802 or dconti@tribweb.com.

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