Dem. Pa. House Policy Chief Sinks to New Low in Debate Over American Energy Production

According to his website, Pennsylvania state Representative Mike Sturla’s (D-96) — as the House’s Democratic Policy Chairman — “is instrumental in crafting the caucus’ policy agenda.” This is a very unsettling notion, considering the coarse rhetoric he offered yesterday about the region’s natural gas industry. Mr. Sturla’s commitment to new, massive taxes on responsible, clean-burning, job-creating American natural gas development cannot be questioned.

And while reasonable minds may disagree about natural gas tax policy and the associated economic impacts that such proposals may carry, Mr. Sturla – a key legislative leader in Pennsylvania – stooped to a new low yesterday about Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry, which has helped put more than 140,000 folks to work at a time when our national economy remains anemic.

As reported by the Harrisburg, Pa.-based news outlet Capitolwire (“Walker says forestland royalties key to solving state’s economic problems”) today, Mr. Sturla – in several emails to reporter Pete DeCoursey – lodges a host of unsubstantiated claims about the natural gas industry, including that its responsible for spreading “venereal disease.”

This direct quote – via email – from Mr. Sturla, as reported by Capitolwire:

“Also, aside from building roads so their trucks can get to drill sites and doing a little stream work to mitigate damage from their road building, exactly what are all those things the drillers are doing for the local communities? Patronizing the bars at night? Driving up the cost of rental housing? Spreading sexually transmitted disease amongst the womenfolk? Causing school districts to ask local governments to ban truck traffic on local roads during school bus pick up and drop off times so kids don’t get killed? Upgrading emergency preparedness equipment to handle a well blow out? Running compressor stations that have decibel levels equal to a jet engine?…Really community oriented stuff…”

Disparaging usage of ‘womenfolk’ aside (it’s 2011 by the way, good representative), Mr. Sturla’s comments are downright arrogant, inflammatory and, above all else, patently false.

While there’s not – and will likely never be any Marcellus Shale development in Mr. Sturla’s district – he should be aware of the impact that our industry is in fact having throughout communities across the region. As much it may pain Mr. Sturla, he – and others interested – should take a good, hard look at a series of recent news reports about the “really community oriented stuff” that our industry is responsible for:

  • “Natural-gas supply is a sparkplug for state”: Raymond J. Bologna has a 1,300-foot-high coal pile and tried for more than 20 years to build a power plant to burn it. The economy’s collapse killed his last good chance to make it happen, but he hopes that natural gas — the new economic sparkplug — can revive his project. Bologna wants to build two power plants at his site in Robinson, Washington County, one fueled by the waste coal piled there and another fueled by gas from the region’s deep shale formations. “We’re here to create jobs and create value,” Bologna said, promising an annual payroll of $6 million to $7 million and nearly 70 employees. “It looks like the Marcellus shale is going to get us there.”Industries such as steel and glass should benefit from having a cheap fuel source nearby. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 8/14/11)
  • “Gas drilling industry reaching out to communities via county fairs”: Oil and gas sponsorships account for about one-third of the Greene County Fair’s total budget this year, said Debbie Stephenson, the fair’s secretary/treasurer. That extra money has come in handy as state funding drops. In 2005, state funding for fairs was $4.6 million. Last year, it was $1.2 million. … The first Marcellus wells were drilled in 2004, and about two years later, energy firms started county fair outreach, said Eric Cowden, community outreach manager for the Marcellus Shale Coalition lobbying group. “As traditional [as] summer fairs are for Pennsylvania, it has become that kind of tradition for these energy companies,” he said. “It’s part of their makeup now.” … Outreach at such community-oriented gatherings is a way to combat some of the industry’s negative press, said Rod Winters, director of land at the Energy Corporation of America and the purchaser Thursday night of an 8-month-old lamb named Magnum. … Magnum’s owner, 10-year-old Hayden Demniak, easily came up with a list of the ways that energy firms have helped his elementary school in Cumberland Township: an improved walking track, a new nature trail, science demonstrations and the sponsorship of a healthy eating program. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/14/11)
  • “Report: Pittsburgh, Surrounding Region at Center of New Energy Economy”: Shale gas could offset imported oil and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs for region. Pittsburgh and a surrounding region that includes West Virginia and parts of Ohio may be at the epicenter of the nation’s new energy economy. The region’s proximity to shale gas reserves, coupled with its access to a assets such in education, research and investment, point to significant economic opportunities, according to the report “Regional Pittsburgh: The New Energy Economy,” issued in June by the Center for Industrial Research Applications at West Virginia University. “Regional Pittsburgh” finds itself in a unique position, one that has not been available for more than a century, report authors James E. Smith and Emily Pertl assert. … The use of natural gas will allow the region to reinvest its energy expenditures back into the region, rebuilding its manufacturing base and employing and re-employing a large segment of its current and future labor force, Smith and Pertl wrote. (WOWK-TV, 8/16/11)

Note to Mr. Sturla: Facts and science must serve as the foundation for our dialogue — not hyperbole, bald-faced lies and scare tactics.

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