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Shale gas industry’s ad campaign aims to promote fracking

Tribune-Review
| Wednesday, September 24, 2014 10:21 a.m

Shale drillers must overcome image problems and attempts to raise taxes if they want to seize an opportunity to make Pennsylvania a long-term energy hub, executives and analysts said during a gathering in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

“We need a transparent, fair and reasonable tax and regulatory scheme that’s predictable and stable, and that’s competitive compared to other opportunities,” XTO Energy President Randy Cleveland told the Tribune-Review.

Maintaining success in the nation’s fastest-growing natural gas play requires good tax policies, corporate responsibility and workforce development, Cleveland, the head of the nation’s largest natural gas producer, said earlier in a speech at the annual Shale Insight conference at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

His words followed comments from two national political analysts who said the industry is under attack by critics.

“The disinformation and propaganda machine against what you do is frightening,” said Stephen Moore, chief economist for the conservative Heritage Foundation. He and former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino noted an anti-drilling message in this week’s climate change demonstrations in New York.

The industry is fighting back.

The North Fayette-based Marcellus Shale Coalition, which organized the conference, is starting a statewide advertising campaign aimed at promoting and rebranding gas extraction.

“Fracking is a good word,” actors say in TV and radio spots set to begin airing Thursday. “Fracking rocks,” a girl says in the ad.

Michael Pavone, CEO of Harrisburg-based ad firm Pavone, previewed the campaign and said the coalition, which is a lobbyist and trade group, contracted to produce the ads and keep airing them through next summer’s state budget negotiations.

Critics said the industry should focus more on avoiding environmental damage from drilling than on its image.

“As opposed to addressing those issues, they chose to hire an ad agency,” said Robert Gardner, a Harrisburg-based state leader of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Gas Campaign. “It’s a bit frustrating to think of the money they’ve spent on this.”

The coalition did not say how much it’s spending. “It’s less than Tom Steyer is spending,” said spokesman Patrick Creighton, referring to the liberal billionaire who said he would put $100 million into political campaigns this year, including that of Pennsylvania Democrat Tom Wolf, who is running for governor and supports an extraction tax .

The coalition and industry are fighting efforts to increase taxes on the record amounts of natural gas companies are pulling from the Marcellus and Utica shale. Wolf said he wants to raise up to $1 billion a year from a combination of fees and extraction taxes.

Gov. Tom Corbett, who will speak at the shale conference Thursday, opposes additional taxes.

Well owners pay a per-well fee that raised more than $200 million annually over the past three years. The coalition’s “Set the Record Straight” ad campaign promotes that impact fee and other contributions the industry makes to the economy.

Cleveland said a significant proportion of whatever tax the industry pays should go to communities that host drilling, which is how the impact fee works. The shale conference included at least two panel discussions on impact fees and regulations included in Act 13, the 2012 law that imposed new rules on drillers.

“We have to work collaboratively with communities and answer their big questions, ‘Can you protect my fresh water and can you manage air quality?’” he said.

Environmental issues led at least six workshops at the conference.

“It’s important that the industry works to get this right,” said John Norbeck, vice president of the environmental group PennFuture and a frequent critic of the industry.

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

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