2012-09-20 / Local & State

Turnpike Billboards Slam Gas Drilling Critics

By Kevin Begos


PITTSBURGH (AP) – A new series of billboards on the Pennsylvania Turnpike describes critics of natural gas drilling as “Green Slime” who use “Lies” to discredit the industry.

The billboards and a related website don't disclose who funded them, and several companies involved in the design process at first refused to identify their client. But after The Associated Press began making inquiries, the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association took credit.

“It was my idea,” said association President Louis D'Amico, who added that PIOGA has gotten “some great responses” and plans to expand the campaign. “We feel we need to get people's attention.”

D'Amico said he believes much of the criticism directed against the industry is unfair. He said the campaign wasn't meant to be “anonymous.”

The billboards and website didn't break any laws, but some people inside and outside the industry say that transparency should be part of any debate over Marcellus Shale drilling.

“It is the first incident that I recall of anonymous advertising being used in the environmental context,” said George Jugovic, president of the environmental group PennFuture and a former state environmental regulator.

Jugovic said the billboards and the nogreenslime.com website are examples of free speech, but he questioned the secrecy.

Penneco Outdoor Advertising, which owns the billboards, first declined to say who its customer was.

The website is registered through DomainsByProxy, an Arizona company that shields the owner of a site. The company that designed the website also declined to disclose its customer.

Jugovic said it was ironic that a campaign that uses phrases such as “Facts Matter” and “Get The Truth” was started in secrecy.

Steve Forde, a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, said transparency in the gas drilling debate is important.

“We understand fully that legitimate questions exist about safe American natural gas production,” Forde said in a statement to the AP. He said transparency “is absolutely necessary in advancing a serious and important conversation about Marcellus Shale development across the region.”

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has made it possible to tap into deep reserves of oil and gas but has also raised concerns about pollution. Large volumes of water, along with sand and hazardous chemicals, are injected underground to break rock apart and free the oil and gas. Contaminated wastewater from the process can leak from faulty well casings into aquifers, but it is often difficult to trace underground sources of pollution.

Regulators contend that overall, water and air pollution problems are rare, but environmental groups and some scientists say there hasn't been enough research on those issues. The industry and many federal and state officials say the practice is safe when done properly, and many rules on air pollution and disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking are being strengthened.

The billboards are about 35 miles outside of Pittsburgh. One reads: “Pa. Republicans: Stop DEP Regulatory Abuse.” Another reads: “You’ve Been Slimed! Distortions, Half-Truths, Lies.”

Erin Waters, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, said the agency has no regulatory authority over the content of the billboards.

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