To hear Aubrey McClendon tell it this afternoon, protesters opposed to the hydraulic fracturing process used to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania might be winning the public relations battle. McClendon, chairman and CEO of Chesapeake Energy, praised his industry for creating jobs and tax revenue in the state while lambasting protesters outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center as dangerous environmental "extremists" hooked on a fantasy of a world filled with green energy choices and no fossil fuel use.
Hundreds of those protesters lined both sides of Arch Street outside the center, waving signs that pushed solar and wind energy projects while accusing the natural gas industry of poisoning water tables near drill sites through the controversial practice known as "fracking." Protesters portrayed Gov. Corbett as a puppet to the industry. Corbett, elected with substantial campaign contributions last year from the industry, has opposed efforts to implement an extraction tax on natural gas.
McClendon did not mention the hospitable nature of Pennsylvania's government, including many members of the state General Assembly, toward the natural gas industry. Corbett is scheduled to speak at the convention, Shale Gas Insight 2011, tomorrow. Chesapeake Energy is the state's most active natural gas driller," McClendon said while suggesting the protests create no value for Pennsylvania.
"Very simply, they want no drilling," said McClendon of the protesters, dismissing claims of groundwater pollution caused by fracking. "That's fine, I guess, if you don't need heat in your homes, electricity in your office of factory, if you don't need a job to go to or if you don't need to put food on your plate."
McClendon spoke during a lunch break, that was followed by a forum on public relations about the industry. Attendees for that forum stopped to peer through the center's windows at the protest just outside. Some took pictures while others pointed and joked. Inside the forum, industry leaders said the protesters had an advantage in a simple message of opposition while it takes them 10 to 15 minutes to adequately explain how fracking works.
In fracking, millions of gallons of water are pumped into the ground with sand and chemicals to break up rock and release gas.