By Greg Hazley
The energy industry umbrella group fighting to protect and expand drilling and exploration rights on the massive Marcellus Shale is ramping up its PR with the hire of a former communications aide to House Speaker John Boehner.
The Marcellus Shale is a rock formation running through large parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, as well as other states, and containing vast reserves of natural gas. As drilling technology has improved, the industry in recent years has only begun to tap the 390-million-year-old rock formation with a process hit by environmentalists and known as “fracking.”
The Marcellus Shale Coalition, as the industry group is called, has tapped Steve Forde, a former communications director to Boehner who recently served as senior director of corporate communications for Education Management Corporation. He takes on the role of policy and communications director for the group.
The hire comes at a time when cash-strapped states are eying revenues from natural gas drilling, pitted against environmental and public health concerns that are only beginning to be studied and understood. One recent study said Pennsylvania alone could reap $8-$15 billion of annual spending if drilling were maximized along the shale. Landowners stand to gain $250B over time, the study said.
Forde is among a trio of new hires for the 165-company coalition, along with membership services director Christopher Heck and conference director Helen Goodman.
The industry said last year it hopes to drill 30,000 wells by 2020.
The group this week has faced the results of a seven-month investigation of fracking wastewater in Pennsylvania by the New York Times published in a series of articles which has drawn an extensive rebuke from the MSC, although the group is quoted in the pieces.
The Times investigation found health and environmental risks in the wastewater left behind after natural gas is extracted, lax regulations, as well as flaws in efforts to recycle the water.
“While raising some valid questions about water monitoring, this article – seven months in the making – lacks context, offers misleading comparisons and in some cases put forth information that is not supported by the facts,” the group said of the Times piece.
Kristi Gittins, VP of industry and public affairs for Chief Oil & Gas, heads public affairs for the MSC.
Forde worked for Boehner when the congressman was Minority Leader, re-joining in 2007 after exiting Boehner’s office in ’05 for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.