PHILADELPHIA — More than 1,600 oil and natural gas company representatives from throughout the country are meeting in Philadelphia this week to focus on drilling, producing and distributing natural gas nationwide.
“It's an opportunity for the industry to host a conference by the industry for the industry, so the topics are the things that are at the heart of our organization's work,” said Kathryn Klaber, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition. “It's a chance for us to focus on issues that are important in the Appalachian Basin and the Marcellus Shale, but that also have national significance.”
Many of the conference sessions focus on environmental issues, including air quality, water quality, spill prevention and remediation and worker safety.
“That's a core of our organization,” Klaber said. “There are a lot of regulations that are changing at the state level and at the federal level. Our members want to make sure that as the regulations evolve, they're still workable and they still allow us to do the job we're here to do.
“Our focus is very proactive. It's not about fighting something new. It's about how to make it work.”
Environmental issues also were on the minds of several hundred sign-waving protesters who staged a rally just outside the convention center.
Led in part by Josh Fox — director of the HBO documentary “Gasland” — the group called for an end to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, claiming that the process has harmed local drinking water throughout the region and is releasing large amounts of methane gas into the atmosphere.
The natural gas industry has rejected many of the group's claims, pointing out that fracking takes place thousands of feet below the surface — well below the water table — and that state and federal regulators have found no evidence that their processes are responsible for Fox's claims.
The Philadelphia conference marks the Marcellus Shale Coalition's second such meeting.
Much has changed over the past 12 months as the price of natural gas collapsed and many in the industry have fled to more profitable, oil-rich basins.
“It's put some pressure on that investment,” Klaber said of the Marcellus and other rock formations rich with dry gas. “We have to be that much more competitive. The wells have to produce that much better. The regulations have to be that much more straightforward.”
While low prices have wrecked the bottom line for thousands of natural gas companies throughout the country, Klaber said it's not all bad for the industry.
“That low natural gas price has brought along interest in a wide range of companies and industries,” she said. “We're generating much more electricity now from natural gas. You have heightened interest in transportation fuel. You're also seeing new manufacturing in Pennsylvania.”
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett opened the conference by praising the natural gas industry with a reference to Col. Edwin Drake, who is credited with drilling the country's first oil well in Titusville, Penn.
“I'm convinced that we are at the beginning of a new industrial revolution and you are the tip of the spear,” Corbett said. “It can bring us jobs and bring us prosperity while protecting the state. I'm convinced that this generation of Pennsylvanians can complete the journey that Col. Drake began.”