PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Gov. Tom Corbett on Thursday attacked anti-drilling activists as the "unreasoning opposition" who accept the nation can land a space vehicle on Mars but don't believe energy companies can safely harvest gas a mile under the earth's surface.
Corbett, speaking Thursday at a Marcellus Shale industry conference in Philadelphia, touted the economic benefits of shale-gas development and hailed drillers as the "tip of the spear" of a new industrial revolution.
"After all the predictions of disaster and the fearful warnings from people with no understanding of the industry, Pennsylvania is reaping a bounty," said the Republican governor.
As Corbett spoke, a few hundred anti-drilling activists protested outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Opponents portray shale-gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing — the technique that's allowed drillers to extract natural gas from shale deposits deep underground — as bad for the environment and a danger to public health.
"Please open your eyes. We're destroying the precious resources that God has provided us with to sustain life," said protester Tammy Manning, of Franklin Forks, Pa., who has filed a lawsuit alleging a gas driller contaminated her water well. The driller denies responsibility.
The second annual Shale Gas Insight conference drew about 1,600 people at a time of tremendous change for the drilling industry. Companies are shifting rigs to drill for natural gas liquids and oil in the face of historically low natural gas prices. They're adjusting to a major overhaul of state drilling regulations and recently paid a first-ever state "impact fee" of more than $200 million.
And they are still struggling to gain wide public acceptance.
Addressing the conference, XTO Energy President Jack Williams acknowledged that "some Americans continue to demonstrate a high level of concern about the impact of shale development activity on their communities and the environment. ... Our industry must take steps to strengthen public confidence."