They self-identified as two guys from the Marcellus shale drilling region of Pennsylvania.
They carried one-gallon plastic jugs full of brownish liquid that they plopped onto the podium during a Capitol news conference.
“This is my well water,” said one. “I've got gas drilling and fracking 500 feet from my property. I've offered Governor Corbett to come up and drink this water that he says is safe.”
A Rotunda full of anti-drilling, sign carrying protesters roared at the thought of Gov. Tom Corbett drinking the brackish fluid. They also cheered speakers who blasted Corbett for his cozy relationship with the companies that have brought drilling rigs to their sleepy hamlets and forested burgs.
It is toxic. Not the water – well, maybe the water – but the relationship between the governor and environmentalists who insist Corbett has sold out to big oil and gas.
Led by filmmaker Josh Fox (Gasland, Gasland 2), they insist Pennsylvania's water is being spoiled and the state is protecting the polluters.
“This is a fire sale,” Fox said in an interview when he was in town earlier this week to tout the release of Gasland 2. “And it's our water on fire.”
But gas drilling has been an economic wildfire that has softened the true impact of the Great Recession, according to Ray Keating, chief economist of the Small Business Entrepreneurship Council. Keating has studied the economic impact of shale drilling in Pennsylvania.
“Overall, employment dropped in Pennsylvania during the recession,” Keating said. “But within the energy sectors, employment increased by 80 percent, 100 percent over that period.”
Keating says gas production increased 700 percent between 2005 and 2011. Records show that drilling permits went from 122 in 2007 to more than 3300 in 2011.
Fox admits business is booming, but wonders at what cost.
“Even though some people might be making money, they're making money on the backs of the suffering of other people in Pennsylvania, and not just the short-term suffering but the long-term suffering,” he said.
Keating says many in the environmental left are dead set against carbon-based energy. They want renewables and that fuels their rejection of natural gas drilling. He also says it furthers that aim to demonize oil and gas companies as greedy polluters.
“I know that the lefties will say, 'Oh, that's what capitalists do,' but no, they don't,” he said. “They want to be able to maximize their profits, right? That's actually a good thing. They're not gonna be able to do that if they make a mess of the environment and have a government and everybody else come down on them. It just doesn't make any sense.”
But nonsensical, to the anti-drilling crowd, is a state that prioritizes profits over protecting people.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's spokesman, Kevin Sunday, was at the rally, heard his agency criticized and insisted the claims aren't true.
“We have 2,600 hard-working Pennsylvanians who are engineers, scientists and attorneys who go to work everyday to make sure the state's water is protected,” Sunday said. “There's 3 million Pennsylvanians that rely on private water supplies and we have the most protective provisions in the nation to make sure those private water supplies are protected as natural gas development unfolds.”
But Corbett's two top environmental stewards, the secretaries of DEP and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources are now gone, and that's troubling to former DEP secretary John Hanger.
“Things can go radically wrong quickly on the DEP and DCNR watch,” said Hanger, who's also running for governor.
Critics promise to make gas drilling and the environment a campaign issue when Corbett stands for re-election in 2014.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is currently conducting an audit into DEP, and how it's handled water quality issues related to Marcellus shale drilling. His finding are expected in December or January.