A coalition of natural gas exploration companies on Friday released a list of industry principles that they said will make the Marcellus Shale drilling boom a positive force, and they criticized a proposed gas-extraction tax passed by the state House as "onerous."
Former Gov. Tom Ridge joined the heads of the Marcellus Shale Coalition to unveil the seven principles, which range from workplace safety, environmental protection and "transparency" to cooperation with communities where the drilling occurs and efforts to hire more local workers.
"I like the notion that perhaps 10 years from now people will come to Pennsylvania and say, 'You know what? They did it right. They didn't just do it, they did it right, they were smart, they were responsible,'" Ridge said.
The opportunity for the Marcellus Shale industry to add 100,000 to 200,000 jobs to Pennsylvania's economy is unprecedented, he said.
But Ridge also slammed the bill, passed by the state House on Wednesday, that would impose a new extraction tax of 39 cents per thousand cubic feet of gas produced. Ridge said the tax was "too high" and could discourage drilling activity.
Ridge and Ray Walker, chairman of the coalition and senior vice president of Range Resources Corp. of Fort Worth, Texas, both said the bill does get the ball rolling toward what they called an inevitable tax. Pennsylvania is the only major gas-producing state that doesn't tax the activity.
"Having been a legislator in Washington and as a governor in Pennsylvania, I know that the House does their work and the Senate does their work and what you end up getting at the end of the day will probably differ," Ridge said.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition hired Ridge over the summer as its strategic adviser while it tries to improve its public image and lobby the Legislature.
Kathryn Klaber, executive director of the coalition, said drillers are working with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and other agencies on regulations that will undergird the principles put forth.
Walker said the coalition began with a meeting of 17 industry executives in May 2008 and formed 10 months ago. The group developed its principles for its first-annual meeting in Pittsburgh on Thursday night.
Klaber acknowledged that the principles include no hard-and-fast standards that the group can police. Rather, the principles are meant to exert a kind of positive peer pressure, she said.
"We're all in this together," Klaber said. "We're all only as good as whoever had a mistake this morning."
The principles, Ridge said, are about attitude and approach.
"We're not here to tell you that everybody involved on a daily basis is going to comply on a day-to-day basis," he said.