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Thousands of natural gas workers rally in Harrisburg

| Tuesday, May 6, 2014, 2:43 p.m.
David Conti | Tribune-Review
Thousands of natural gas industry workers gather Tuesday at the state Capitol in Harrisburg for the Pennsylvania Jobs Pennsylvania Now Rally on May 6, 2014.
David Conti | Tribune-Review
Environmental protesteres showed up at the gas industry rally in Harrisburg, but Capitol Police reported no problems between the two factions.
David Conti | Tribune-Review
On hand at the gas at the industry’s Pennsylvania Jobs Pennsylvania Energy Rally was a team from the public relations firm Bravo Group. From left are Anna Idler, Noelle Lorine and Drew Gingrich, all of Philadelphia, and Anne Merrick of Mt. Lebanon. According to the company's website, Bravo Group assists its clients with a 'campaign-style approach to advocacy and public relations.' It has offices in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and near Philadelphia.

HARRISBURG — More than 2,500 natural gas workers and supporters joined what police called the largest gathering on the Capitol steps in years to rally for their industry.

“We must prevent the misguided and ill-informed from hurting this opportunity,” Rettew Associates CEO Hank Rettew told the crowd at the industry's Pennsylvania Jobs Pennsylvania Energy Rally.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, the booming gas industry's largest lobbyist group, organized the rally to “show this state that there's diverse support,” said its chairman, Scott Roy, an official at Range Resources.

“It's intended to be the start of a strong drumbeat,” he said.

The industry is fighting a push by some lawmakers and the Democratic candidates in this year's governor's race to raise taxes on the state's growing number of wells in the Marcellus shale and other formations.

“They should be taxed,” said Bob Wise, president of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club north chapter, one of a few dozen people who protested the rally.

Protesters said drilling is harming the environment. Rally participants loudly denied that.

Organizers provided a heavy security presence to join police. They saw no clashes between the groups, said Joe Jacobs, superintendent of Capitol Police.

He estimated the crowd eclipsed 2,500 people, “one of the largest we've seen in a few years.”

The crowd was dominated by workers and families bused in by unions, energy companies and the coalition. A spokesman said he could not estimate how much the groups spent on the rally.

Speakers focused on jobs they say drilling has added.

“The unemployment rate in my local went from 10 percent to no percent,” said Jim Kunz, business manager for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 66.

Drilling and related sectors are providing well-paid jobs to people who couldn't find them a few years ago, union leaders said.

“The pipelines have been a lifeline for us,” said Dennis Martire, a vice president for Laborers International Union of North America. “It's all about the jobs.”

David Conti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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