Former governors can choose many career paths. Some of them become college presidents. Some go on the lecture circuit.
And then there’s Tom Ridge, who is set to become a paid shill for the natural-gas drillers swarming his native state.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition, which represents natural-gas companies, has been negotiating to hire Ridge’s lobbying firm. The industry wants the ex-governor’s help with a campaign to educate the public about the benefits of drilling.
It’s unclear how much Ridge will be paid, but he doesn’t come cheap. The tiny impoverished nation of Albania, for example, reportedly paid Ridge nearly $500,000 per year to lobby for its membership in NATO.
Ex-governors are free to enrich themselves however they choose. But there’s something obnoxious about a former governor talking up an industry that poses serious environmental risks, and has already spent millions on lobbying to forestall paying its fair share of state business taxes.
The industry does have a positive story to tell as well. It provides jobs at a time when jobs are scarce. Landowners have become financially secure from leasing to drillers. Natural gas is a relatively clean fuel, and the vast deposits beneath Pennsylvania should help this nation become less reliant on foreign oil.
Those factors argue in favor of proceeding with drilling in Pennsylvania. But the potential environmental hazards associated with hydraulic-fracture drilling, or “fracking,” require a robust array of regulations to protect drinking water supplies. The state, which had outdated laws governing oil and gas drilling, is still trying to catch up.
In a new energy bill in Washington, Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) has included a needed provision that would require drillers to disclose the chemicals used in fracking.
The oil and gas industry’s safety record certainly needs improving. Pennsylvania ranks sixth with 114 significant accidents in the past decade, according to a new report by the National Wildlife Foundation. Most of them weren’t caused by Marcellus drillers.
But fracking does carry risks, such as the methane pollution of 14 drinking wells in January 2009 in Dimock Township, Susquehanna County, by Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. Cabot paid a $360,000 fine. And the state temporarily banned Cabot from fracking after three chemical spills at a site in Dimock polluted a wetland and killed fish.
So as the former governor prepares to tell a story for hire, let’s all start on the same page: This industry bears greater oversight, not less.