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Marcellus Shale Producer Coalition Readies for New Challenges

The Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC), formed by natural gas producers to advance energy development in Pennsylvania, last week launched plans to become an independent nonprofit.

A full-time president and support staff are expected to be in place by the end of January.

"Over the last year, this organization has made significant strides to provide people throughout the Commonwealth with the facts about developing clean-burning natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation," said Ray Walker, chairman of the MSC executive committee. Walker also is vice president of Appalachia Shale for Range Resources Corp., one of the biggest operators in the Marcellus play (see related story).

"The MSC has added significantly to its membership and now represents over 90% of the companies that have applied for permits to drill Marcellus Shale wells," he said.

The coalition, formerly called the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale Committee, includes not only producers but also representatives of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Association and the Associated Petroleum Industries of Pennsylvania.

In February the coalition began an advertising campaign that targeted the 21 Pennsylvania counties where most of the natural gas drilling in the state was occurring. The advertising stressed three primary messages: energy independence, jobs and economic prosperity, and environmental stewardship.

"The coming year will present new challenges and opportunities to tell the story of Pennsylvania's most important energy and economic development initiative in the past several decades, and the MSC is positioned to tell that story," Walker said.

Last month more than a dozen families living in northeastern Pennsylvania sued Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. and a service operator, claiming that their water wells became contaminated when the producer used hydraulic fracturing to stimulate production from area gas wells (see NGI, Nov. 23). Several environmental groups also have stepped up to protest gas drilling across the Marcellus Shale region.

In addition, the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission (PFBC) law enforcement officers and biologists were to begin conducting field inspections of active drilling sites for Marcellus Shale gas wells this month.

"Until now, our agency has only reacted to those drilling sites where a problem resulted in material entering a waterway or wetlands," said PFBC Executive Director Douglas Austen. "We are now taking a proactive approach to identify possible problems at a drilling site and to work with the company to ensure necessary measures are in place to minimize the possibility of damaging nearby waterways."

The agency plans to focus on well sites that are in close proximity to waterways, including wetlands. The inspections are to determine if adequate measures are in place at the drilling site and access roads to prevent damage to the nearby aquatic resources. PFBC staff also will obtain water quality data from locations in nearby waterways. More than 150 active well sites have been identified so far for inspections.

In addition to electing Walker to chair the MSC, the coalition elected Chesapeake Energy Corp.'s David Spigelmyer as first vice chair. Rich Weber of Atlas Energy Inc. was elected second vice chair, William Fustos was named secretary, and Kristi Gittins of Chief Oil & Gas was elected treasurer.

Information about the MSC is at www.pamarcellus.com.

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