Monday, November 14, 2011

Election showed fracking's key role in region

Money, lobbying increasing in races
Sunday, November 13, 2011

Right up to Election Day, Peters residents were receiving sleek fliers in the mail encouraging them to vote against a referendum to ban gas drilling in the Washington County community.
The mailers weren't coming from local opposition, but from Houston-based industry group Consumer Energy Alliance.

On Tuesday, the Peters referendum was defeated, and Rich Fitzgerald was elected county executive in neighboring Allegheny County.

On Wednesday, the Consumer Energy Alliance named a director for its new Pennsylvania chapter: Mike Mikus, who ran Mr. Fitzgerald's campaign.

This past week's election offered a preview of a Pennsylvania political landscape where money from outside the state is flowing into the most local of local races, where officials pass through the revolving door of political and industry jobs, and where a billion-dollar industry and grassroots activists are mobilizing to turn every race into a with-us-or-against-us choice.

As drilling for natural gas increases in the large Marcellus Shale formation that underlies much of Pennsylvania as well as portions of neighboring states, the issue has become more and more tied into politics and efforts to gain influence with both politicians and constituents.

Mr. Mikus said his new job involves "no lobbying whatsoever" of Mr. Fitzgerald or any other politician.

"We focus at the grassroots level, trying to educate citizens to see behind a lot of the misconceptions about energy."

Also working to educate people is Marcellus at the Polls, an anti-drilling group, which compiled a list of "fractivist friendly" candidates for last week's election.

The multi-national corporations moving into the Marcellus region -- firms such as ExxonMobil or Chevron -- have long dedicated millions of dollars to lobbying efforts. Range Resources and EQT Corp., two of Pennsylvania's most active drillers, each have a lobbyist in Harrisburg.

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