Gov. Tom Corbett on Thursday attacked anti-drilling activists as the "unreasoning opposition" who accept the nation can land a space vehicle on Mars but don't believe energy companies can safely harvest gas a mile under the earth's surface.
Corbett, speaking Thursday at a Marcellus Shale industry conference in Philadelphia, touted the economic benefits of shale-gas development and hailed drillers as the "tip of the spear" of a new industrial revolution.
"After all the predictions of disaster and the fearful warnings from people with no understanding of the industry, Pennsylvania is reaping a bounty," said the Republican governor. "Marcellus has reached into some very old corners of our economy and our state and brought them back to life.''
As Corbett spoke, activists opposed to hydraulic fracturing, the technique that's allowed drillers to extract natural gas from shale deposits deep underground, were planning their own slate of events outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Protesters portray shale-gas drilling as bad for the environment and a danger to public health.
The second annual Shale Gas Insight conference drew more than 1,000 energy executives at a time of tremendous change for the drilling industry. Companies are shifting rigs to drill for natural gas liquids and oil in the face of historically low natural gas prices. They're adjusting to a major overhaul of state drilling regulations and recently paid a first-ever state "impact fee" of more than $200 million.
Corbett said the drillers are here to stay. He said shale gas has already spurred a nascent recovery in Pennsylvania's manufacturing sector, pointing to Shell's proposed multibillion-dollar petrochemical plant in western Pennsylvania and a recent deal to prevent a Philadelphia refinery from closing in part by expanding the use of gas from the Marcellus formation, which holds the nation's largest reservoir of gas.
"We need vision, one that ties this state's future to an economy unshackled by needless regulation, but which guards against the desolation of cut-and-run practices," Corbett said. "Pennsylvania is getting it right.''
Corbett's environmental secretary, Michael Krancer, later took part in a panel discussion on natural gas and the presidential race. Playing the role of surrogate for GOP nominee Mitt Romney, Krancer attacked President Barack Obama's energy policy as "nothing but what's above the ground, or wind and solar above all'' while touting Romney's energy plan.
Krancer, a harsh critic of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, also denounced his federal counterparts as "rogue and out-of-control.''
Krancer's spokeswoman said he took a personal day and paid his own way to the event.
Kathleen McGinty, who led Pennsylvania's environmental agency under Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, was Obama's surrogate and said the president favors an "all of the above" energy policy.