Natural gas leader calls for better dialogue

The natural gas industry’s top pitch woman says the debate over hydraulic fracturing has become too adversarial.

Wary residents in New York and other states are at the center of the firestorm, and many have just tuned out, said Regina Hopper, president of America’s Natural Gas Alliance.

“They’ve heard so much from both sides . . . that they’re kind of shutting down,” Hopper said during the U.S. Energy Association’s State of the Energy Industry forum in Washington, D.C.

New York state is ground zero in the debate over hydraulic fracturing, the technology that is key to unlocking natural gas locked in dense rock formations nationwide, including the Marcellus Shale in the Northeast. Hydraulic fracturing involves pumping mixtures of water, sand and chemicals underground to open up the pores of the rock and free hydrocarbons trapped within.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration is expected to decide soon whether it will allow drilling in the Empire State.

Environmentalists warn about drinking water contamination from hydraulic fracturing fluids or natural gas leaking out of poorly designed and cemented wells. Conservationists also have highlighted concerns about the tremendous water demands of hydraulic fracturing.

The Environmental Protection Agency is in the middle of a multi-year study on the intersection of hydraulic fracturing and water.

Hopper said natural gas backers need to have real dialogues with the wary landowners on the issue.

“It’s important for us to have conversations with these people . . . who sincerely have questions: about natural gas development, she said. “You don’t want to lose momentum…based on unsubstantiated fear.”

“Our mission,” she added, is “to talk with these folks — not to them, but with them,” she added.