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Drilling group offers paid trip to energy hearing

SCRANTON, Pa. — A natural gas industry group is offering an all-expenses paid trip to pro-drilling landowners in the Northeast’s Marcellus Shale to get them to attend a public meeting by the U.S. Department of Energy on the issue of hydraulic fracturing, a newspaper reported Friday.

A consultant for Energy In Depth, a public-relations group formed in 2009 to promote natural gas drilling and respond to criticism of the gas industry, emailed supporters in northeastern Pennsylvania and central New York, offering transportation, meals and lodging to the hearing outside Pittsburgh, according to The Times-Tribune of Scranton.

The public meeting is scheduled for Monday night at Washington and Jefferson College. The energy department said a panel on natural gas will hear testimony from citizens “interested in the safety and environmental performance of hydraulic fracturing.”

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a technique in which millions of gallons of water, along with sand and toxic chemicals, are injected deep underground to break up shale rock deposits and release natural gas. Environmentalists believe that fracking has the potential to pollute groundwater. The industry insists it is safe.

Energy In Depth consultant Thomas Shepstone, a businessman from Wayne County, told the newspaper that the incentives are “highly appropriate” given the travel time to western Pennsylvania. He said between 18 and 20 people had accepted the trip as of Friday morning.

“To ask people from northeastern Pennsylvania and central New York to make a seven- or eight-hour trip to go to a hearing — even though they are passionate about it and want to do it — is a very hard request,” he said. “You can’t expect people to do that unless they have some reward for it. And so we’re offering that reward.”

Transportation will likely include both a bus and a chartered plane for people who have to return to the region directly after the hearing, he said, adding that supporters want to promote the economic boon of gas drilling.

“We think local people are passionate about this issue and they deserve to be heard,” he said. “We’re going to make damn sure they get an opportunity to do it.”