Marcellus initiative keeping people informed

BY ELIZABETH SKRAPITS, Times-Shamrock Writer

A new initiative is under way to provide people with information about the Marcellus Shale and its potential for economic development, as well as to put a regional focus on the bigger issues related to natural gas.

Washington, D.C.-based Energy In Depth is launching its Northeast Marcellus Initiative, a grassroots education and outreach program also intended to mobilize supporters of responsible natural gas development in Northeastern Pennsylvania and southern New York.

“We’re just hitting our stride this week,” said Energy In Depth Team Leader Chris Tucker, a Back Mountain native.

The Northeast Marcellus Initiative hired full-time field organizers Bill DesRosiers in Harveys Lake and Nicole Jacobs in Hughesville, Lycoming County, who will be led by campaign manager Tom Shepstone of Honesdale. The goal was to have organizers who are native to the regions going out into their communities.

“We’re not parachuting people in. These are going to be folks who know the people, know the area,” Tucker said.

For example, Shepstone’s family has been in the upper Delaware Valley area for seven generations, since 1799.

Shepstone has been involved in advocating natural gas for about three years, and, he said, “We just found a lot of people saying, ‘why can’t we get the other side of the story?’”

Then Energy In Depth came along and proposed the initiative.

Energy In Depth, formed by the Independent Petroleum Association of America in 2009, is a national campaign. This is the first time it is getting involved in on-the-ground organizing, according to Tucker.

Although he’s based in Washington, D.C., Tucker is originally from Trucksville; he graduated from Dallas High School and his family still lives in the area.

“It’s where I consider home. It’s an area I take great pride in,” he said. “That’s why we’re getting involved in the way we are. It’s frankly personal.”

The Northeast Marcellus Initiative will hold informational meetings, as well as monitor activity both by natural gas opponents and at neutral events like zoning hearings, Shepstone said. Now that the team is in place, its members will be attending “pretty much any significant meeting,” he said.

“There will be sort of an outreach effort in terms of us going directly to people and going to other peoples’ meetings … ensuring our side of the story gets told,” he said.

Besides talking with members of pro-drilling groups like Lehman Township-based Citizens for Cleaner Energy, the group is working with property owners’ organizations. The Columbia County Landowners Coalition and the South West Ross Township Property Owners Group are on the list to be contacted, Shepstone said.

Areas where natural gas development is most active are where the strongest supporters are, Tucker said. He said it’s the areas where there hasn’t been much gas-related activity, such as Luzerne and Lackawanna counties, where there is misinformation and apprehension.

Energy In Depth supports natural gas development if it can be done safely. Tucker believes 95 percent of people feel that way.

“It’s not as polarizing as you might think. There’s a broad middle, of people looking for information,” he said. “This isn’t just sort of a rallying-the-base sort of deal…. We’re looking to reach that sensible middle.”