Marcellus Shale Coalition Calls for Openness in Natural Gas Industry

Lawmakers, industry officials hold roundtable on Marcellus Shale

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
4 March 2011
By Sean D. Hamill,

The Marcellus Shale Coalition began planning Thursday's public roundtable with former Gov. Tom Ridge and local leaders weeks before Monday's accident and fire at one of co-host MarkWest Energy Partner's Washington County compressor stations.

But the accident gave the leaders of the roundtable another reason to drive home a point they wanted the 20 local political leaders and media to hear: They don't believe secrecy helps the natural gas industry.

Mr. Ridge told the group -- which included local state representatives, township supervisors and aides to congressional representatives -- that the coalition hopes that even "if there are missteps, acknowledge it, correct it."

The coalition believes MarkWest handled the incident well, acknowledging and detailing to the public quickly what they believe happened.

And Thursday, the company's chief operations officer, John Mollenkopf, told the roundtable the company "will figure out what it was about that design" of a small heater that caused the fire "and we will fix that and it's not going to happen again."

But Jim Penna, district director for U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, whose district, which stretches from Johnstown to Washington, Pa., includes much of the Marcellus Shale region, said that kind of openness is not what constituents have found.

Mr. Ridge acknowledged that there is too often an information gap between what the industry knows and what the public has been informed about that "and we have to fill that gap."

Also at the roundtable, state Rep. Jesse White, who represents part of Washington, Beaver and Allegheny counties, said he has gotten grief from the gas industry when he has tried to ask tough questions.

"Whenever we try to stay in that neutral sphere, we get a level of pushback from the industry and it's been a level of concern."

Following the hour-long roundtable at the Hilton Garden Inn in Canonsburg, the group took a tour of one of MarkWest's compressor stations and a gas plant in Houston.

Sean D. Hamill: or 412-263-2579.