The gas industry spent $3.5 million last year  attempting to convince Pennsylvania lawmakers of the benefits of drilling the state’s deposits of unconventional gas. According to lobbying disclosure reports filed with the Department of State, the lobbying blitz to influence public policy was orchestrated by a collection of 22 companies, the Marcellus Shale Coalition  (MSC) and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association  (PIOGA).
Rep. Greg Vitali of Havertown  described the disclosed amounts as “staggering,” adding that, “it isn’t the type of spending you would find from fledgling companies.”
The Times-Tribune reports  the figures as follows:
The dramatic rise of the gas industry in Pennsylvania along with its increasing lobbying presence has put tremendous pressure on state lawmakers, who are charged with both facilitating the drilling boom and protecting the public from the health and environmental threats associated with drilling. Pennsylvania is home to some of the worst unconventional gas production disasters in the country, many stemming from the industry’s use of the controversial hydraulic fracturing (fracking) method.
On paper, 2010 was full of promise for those who felt oversight of the gas industry was inadequate. Throughout the year, numerous bills were proposed to tighten accountability of gas drilling activities, ranging from water protection issues, pipeline safety standards and drilling bans in state forests. Both the House and State voiced the need for industry severance taxes and the Department of Environmental Protection introduced more thorough standards regarding drilling pollutants, well construction and frack fluid chemical disclosure.
But despite the flurry of legislative proposals, very little was actually accomplished. Only two of the weaker proposed bills were passed into law , one designed to increase access to well production data and the other regarding roll-back taxes for landowners. The proposed severance tax was overshadowed by a less strict impact fee, which was further deferred until this fall.
The increasing lobbying activity in Pennsylvania demonstrates the industry’s continued efforts to expand unconventional drilling, despite growing public concern over the inherent risks of dirty fracked gas. The oil and gas industry is focusing its efforts primarily on confusing the public and influencing politicians, not on making their operations safe for public health and the environment.
“The legislative and regulatory issues facing our industry are countless,” says Marcellus Shale Coalition Vice President David Callahan . “While Marcellus development is still in its relative infancy, we recognize that common-sense policies – at all levels of government – are imperative.”
Coalition groups like the Marcellus Shale Coalition represent a variety of industry players, from continental drillers and national pipeline operators to multinationals such as ExxonMobil.
Doubling up on efforts to influence policy, coalition members also exercise their own lobbying muscle. Range Resources, Chesapeake Energy and ExxonMobil each fund a private lobbying arm and, in the case of the latter two, full-scale public relations campaigns  designed to influence public opinion regarding the benefits of unconventional gas .
Gas industry lobbying in Pennsylvania has already created some troubling political alliances, like that between Gov. Tom Corbett and former energy executive C. Alan Walker , blurring the lines between public and private interests.
At this stage there is little end to the spending spree in sight. Lobbying in the state is set to increase throughout 2011 , with the MSC, Range Resources and PIOGA already spending a combined $557,000 between January and March of this year. Shell Oil Co., which only registering to lobby in Pennsylvania on January 3rd, spent $92,000 in the same period.
Image Credit: MarcellusMoney.org