Energy industry leaders, while directly challenging the opposition, called on the more than 1,600 people attending the Shale Gas Insight 2011 conference in Philadelphia Wednesday to help promote a national energy policy that significantly expands the role of natural gas.

The opposition was represented by several hundred protesters gathered outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center for the conference sponsored by the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

Chesapeake Energy Corp. CEO Aubrey McClendon made a distinction between the protesters and the attendees. “I’m going to call you ‘factivists’ because those people outside consider themselves ‘fracktivists,'” he said on the first day of the conference. Among the facts McClendon touted: Chesapeake employs around 12,000 people, including 3,000 hires this year, and is looking to fill another 800 jobs.

“Remind me what value have the protesters outside created. What jobs have they created?” McClendon said. “You know the answer and so do I. So it’s time that we contrasted what we do for a living with what they do for a living.”

The protest involved several hundred people on the sidewalks outside the conference hall listening to speakers for several hours and featured signs such as “Drilling Kills Jobs: Tourism, Recreation” and “Frack Causes Earthquakes.”

Over and over on the first day of the conference, executives said the industry must become proactive. “We as an industry must take charge,” Range Resources Corp. CEO John Pinkerton said.

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