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European media get course in fracking from W.Pa. leaders

| Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, 10:30 p.m.

Anna Reynolds didn't feel far from home as a tour bus carried her and fellow visitors from Europe through the Marcellus shale fields of Western Pennsylvania into Ohio.

“It seemed like it was very similar to the British countryside,” said Reynolds, a writer and former journalist from London, who noted how isolated and far from homes the Consol Energy drilling operation they visited was.

That was part of the message organizers of last week's trip were trying to make.

Switzerland-based petrochemical giant Ineos arranged the visit by a dozen European journalists to see Cecil-based Consol's operations and get a firsthand view of what shale drilling and fracking look like. Western Pennsylvania provides a living model for the world to see a gas development and production region 10 years after the shale revolution began to take hold here, organizers said.

“We want to share what we do and what we know,” Tim Dugan, chief operating officer at Consol, told the journalists and other guests at a dinner Thursday at Southpointe.

The trip comes as the U.K. prepares for fracking operations to begin there after a moratorium prompted by environmental and earthquake concerns, and as products pulled from Marcellus and Utica shale wells begin to reach its shores.

Ineos is best known here as the company buying the ethane that Consol and fellow driller Range Resources are moving across the state in the Mariner East pipeline to the Marcus Hook terminal south of Philadelphia, where Ineos ships carry it to Europe.

The company also is looking to begin drilling and fracking in the U.K. Tom Crotty, an Ineos director who traveled with the journalists last week, said one potential drilling area under consideration is the former coal region around Mansfield in central England.

“It was king coal in its heyday,” Ashley Booker, head of content for the Mansfield Chad and several other weekly newspapers, said about that part of England. “In the mid '90s, the closure program hit the area hard.”

Booker joined the trip to see how shale drilling and fracking have impacted an Appalachian region that has suffered its own setbacks with coal mine and steel mill closures.

“There's a feeling it could reinvigorate the area,” he said, noting that a vocal group of anti-fracking activists in the U.K. have raised concerns over potential environmental damage.

After touring a Consol well pad to see a drilling operation up close, Booker and the other journalists heard from industry and state leaders who sought to quell such concerns.

“You can see the birds aren't falling out of the sky. The dogs aren't running around crazy,” said Sen. Camera Bartolotta, the Republican co-chair of the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. “Nothing bad is happening on these farms.”

Susan LeGros, executive director of the Downtown-based Center for Sustainable Shale Development, discussed how gas producers have sought to address environmental concerns. Her group is a collaborative between nonprofits and drillers — including Consol — that wrote voluntary standards for outside environmental certification.

“The Appalachian basin is the only area in the country where industry stepped up to do that,” she said.

Several journalists said they got a good impression of shale drilling to take back to their readers. Many said the drilling operations were smaller, cleaner and quieter than they expected.

“It does seem like there's nothing to worry about,” Booker said.

A firsthand account of the industry's impacts on the land and economy will be particularly well-read in Scotland, said Jonathan Brocklebank, a writer for the Daily Mail in Scotland.

“They have a moratorium on fracking until concerns are addressed over safety for workers in the industry and that it won't harm the environment,” he said.

The area of Grangemouth in Scotland is atop a shale formation that could be tapped, Brocklebank said. But even if fracking is not allowed, Grangemouth is going to see shale's benefits.

Ineos ships carrying ethane from the Marcellus and Utica are arriving at the company's refinery there this month.

“It is ironic,” Brocklebank said, noting the area is sitting on a resource that it will instead import. “England is more likely to exploit it first.”

David Conti is the assistant business editor at the Tribune-Review. Reach him at 412-388-5802 or

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