Drilling lobbying group antes up freebies to get folks to public meeting
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How's this for a package: a night in Pittsburgh with free airfare, free lodging and free food. All you need to do is spend two minutes telling the Department of Energy how much you love the natural gas industry.
That's the deal struck up by Energy in Depth, a lobbying firm that's paying for pro-drilling landowners to travel from northeastern Pennsylvania to Washington & Jefferson College on Monday night for a public meeting on the industry.
It's all laid out in an email that was sent Thursday to gas industry supporters by Thomas Shepstone, a consultant for Energy in Depth, which represents independent oil and gas producers. The email offers all-expense-paid accommodations for landowners and industry supporters willing to travel to Washington County from Scranton and Williamsport to tell the federal board how natural gas drilling has improved their lives.
Energy in Depth will even have a bus pickup in Binghamton, N.Y., where legislators have issued a moratorium on the controversial hydraulic fracturing process under debate at Monday's meeting in Washington.
The Department of Energy is looking to hear "directly from community members," according to the event description.
About 25 people had expressed interest in traveling, said Mr. Shepstone, who on Friday afternoon was still trying to find flights out of the Binghamton airport. Most will travel the seven hours by bus, he said, but his email offers flights "for older folks, especially ... and for heads of landowner groups."
He refuted allegations that the perks were an attempt to choreograph an open public meeting.
"We're going to do what it takes to have our voices heard," said Mr. Shepstone. And his goal is to make sure northeastern Pennsylvania isn't left out of the debate, even if the meeting is held across the state.
"It's a federal task force. They're supposed to be looking across the entire Marcellus [Shale] region," he said.
The Secretary of Energy Advisory Board is part of an Obama administration-wide look at lowering the country's dependence on foreign oil. The board's Natural Gas Subcommittee has been charged with examining the hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," process that creates mini fissures in the shale that cause gas to seep out.
The subcommittee's fact-finding tour begins with the Washington & Jefferson meeting, which will run from 7 to 9 p.m. Community members will have two minutes each to talk.
Funding trips like this is relatively new priority for Mr. Shepstone and his team across 10 counties in northeastern Pennsylvania, he said. He called it a "grass-roots" effort.
At one time, the travel package included tickets to Monday's game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Mets, but "we decided they needed better baseball," said Mr. Shepstone jokingly. (It was actually a scheduling conflict.)
Anti-industry activists attending the meeting still see Energy in Depth's trip as purchased support, and statements from environmental groups Food & Water Watch and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network criticized the practice Friday afternoon.
"The Marcellus industry keeps saying they've been creating these great jobs for people," said Gloria Forouzan, a member of Marcellus Protest who is carpooling to the event with friends. "You'd think that they didn't have to bribe them to come to their meeting."
First Published June 11, 2011 12:00 am