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Marcellus Shale Coalition's Role as Advocate, Not Adversary

As the president and executive director of the two-year-old Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC), Kathryn Klaber is charged with addressing the needs and wants of the gas industry, the affected communities and stakeholders, as well as the different governing authorities across an area that extends 95,000 square miles over five states.

With so many disparate voices, Klaber, a Pennsylvania native, has found a formula that works.

"It's better to be at the table as part of the conversation than operating head-to-head opposing someone," she told NGI's Shale Daily on Thursday. "Some might criticize that approach and say we are giving in, but I think it does just the opposite. We get a lot more done and are invited to join in the conversation without general animosity...

"By reaching out, we're very influential. And it's my job to make sure that the Marcellus is the 'star' of the shale plays instead of just one of the many out there."

That's not to say that the coalition, made up of gas producers and midstream operators, agrees with all of the regulations put forth at a federal, state and local level. "We're on record with not agreeing with every regulation," said Klaber. "But I can call and get any regulator on the phone, and they will take the time to listen to our concerns."

The MSC, headquartered in Pennsylvania, now has 130-plus members and continues to grow, Klaber said at the recent Unconventional Gas International Conference and Exhibition in Fort Worth, TX. What "fills our days" are "political and public relations" related to the enormous gas operations, Klaber told the audience.

It's a big job that's getting bigger. About 710 wells were drilled in the Marcellus Shale in 2009. "We're on track for 1,743 wells this year with output of 1 Bcf/d. By 2020 there will be 3,587 wells with output of 13.5 Bcf/d." This year and beyond "we have stronger production and well projections than the first study in 2009."

In today's 24-hour news cycle, the facts have to be stressed and misinformation has to be rebutted, she said. And getting the facts out is especially difficult when it involves explaining technical processes like hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) and how it may affect water tables, she explained. Pennsylvania today has the biggest share of shale gas operations under way, and it also is the state where the MSC has initially focused its attention.

"This is a multi-state coalition," Klaber said of the MSC. "But we've got enough going on just in Pennsylvania, and in 2010 we focused on where the most was at stake, in Pennsylvania..."

The national media tends to focus on the negatives, but Klaber said despite some "hiccups along the way," Pennsylvania's leaders and regulators have been "welcoming" to the gas industry. The state "has been a partner and geared up along with this industry. The Marcellus Shale touches almost every branch of state government and Pennsylvania's 67 counties. Half of the counties have a role in the Marcellus...and of the six Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] regions, five have Marcellus operations as well...

"We have not gone unnoticed by anybody within the state, and for the most part, it's been welcoming." Still, there remains "a lot of communications work ahead of us."

Klaber is "confident that over time" the MSC will be able to establish the type of partnership it has with Pennsylvania authorities elsewhere, including with the powerful watershed authorities that govern portions of the shale play, the Delaware River Basin Commission and the Susquehanna Basin Commission.

Some gas operators in Pennsylvania have been accused of contaminating private water wells in Pennsylvania. However, Klaber said water in parts of Pennsylvania's rural areas is supplied by private water wells, which are not regulated by the state. "Gas has been in some of the state's water wells for as long as those private water wells have been in place," she said.

Some of the private water wells "are in fact contaminated" with methane gas, Klaber acknowledged. But how the wells were contaminated and how long they have been contaminated is "blurred in the public eye...It is incumbent on us to stay on this issue. The problem lies in how private water wells are drilled and cased, not with what industry puts in place. That's a very complex issue to get across in 750 words or in a sound bite."

More than anything, she said, the MSC works on the long-term development of educational resources and communications, which goes along with "helping the country understand" how shale gas is extracted and what sorts of safety measures have been put in place by operators to protect the environment.

Klaber took issue with critics who have demanded more information about hydrofracking chemicals used by gas drillers.

"It continues to amaze me when we continue to provide data on chemicals...and we are accused of withholding information," she said. "Transparency is an important step forward..." Klaber is confident that once she can break through the din, and told the audience, "we will get through this sooner, rather than later."

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