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Activists hope new Pa. governor shifts gas debate

The natural gas that would fill two proposed local pipelines comes from Pennsylvania, a state that got a new leader Tuesday in the person of Gov. Tom Wolf, a millionaire Democrat who defeated one of the most pro-drilling governors in the nation, Tom Corbett, in November.

Distressed by what they say would be negative environmental impacts from proposed pipelines that would slice through Delaware and Schoharie counties, anti-fracking activists in both New York and Pennsylvania said they hope Wolf will follow the footsteps of his Empire State counterpart, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and ban shale drilling.

Were that to happen, they said, the Constitution Pipeline and the Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline would be left high and dry. But what are the chances that even with its new leader, the Keystone State would adopt a New York-style ban on hydraulic fracturing?

“I don’t think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that he would do that,” Tom Shepstone, a gas industry advocate and creator of the blog www.naturalgasnow.org said when reached in Honesdale, Pa.

Wolf, whose Tuesday inauguration in Harrisburg, Pa., drew some anti-drilling protestors, has never directly threatened the industry, Shepstone noted.

“He may throw a few token words here and there to the leftist wing of his party,” Shepstone said. “But he is not going to undermine the industry.”

Having a decidedly different interpretation of the significance of Wolf’s rise to the top in Pennsylvania was Josh Fox, the activist and filmmaker who produced the award-winning anti-fracking documentary film, “Gasland.”

Related: Feds approve Constitution Pipeline

“I think we stand a chance of making friends and making a huge amount of progress with Wolf,” said Fox, who also lives in Pennsylvania and is planning to be with scores of other drilling foes in Albany today to thank Cuomo for banning fracking in New York.

Wolf, the only Democrat nationally to topple a sitting Republican governor last fall, has made some in the energy industry uneasy by promising to enact a 5 percent severance tax on gas production to raise $1 billion in new revenue, opposing gas production on state-owned land and urging more-stringent regulation.

In Harrisburg on Tuesday, Wolf greeted the demonstrators at his inauguration, saying, “I want to work with you,” Fox noted.

Asked if he thinks Wolf could be convinced to ban drilling, Fox said: “Don’t count out the fracking movement.” But he stressed that real change won’t occur until end users cripple the fossil-fuel industry by switching to alternative forms of power.

Public opinion polls in Pennsylvania have steadily shown far more support for the gas industry than similar surveys in New York. A new poll released Tuesday by Siena College found support for the fracking ban in every region of New York, with 55 to 61 percent supporting the ban.

Anne Marie Garti of East Meredith, an organizer of Stop the Pipeline and an environmental lawyer, said public opinion in Pennsylvania could change quickly if the gas industry makes a mistake that gets significant notice.

“Most of the landowners are hardly making any money anymore, given the price of fracked gas and new accounting techniques by the oil and gas industry,” she said.

 

This article was written by Joe Mahoney from The Daily Star, Oneonta, N.Y. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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