In this 90.5 WESA news story, CEA Executive Vice President Andrew Browning discusses how the public perception of shale energy development remains a challenge for industry.

Thousands of people with ties to the natural gas industry are gathered in Pittsburgh this week for the Developing Unconventional Gas, or DUG East Conference.

With ongoing debate around natural gas development, one of the key areas of focus is changing public perception. Environmental groups and anti-fracking groups are concerned about how fracking affects water supplies and the environment and also about long-term effects of the technology. Some allege that industry officials put profits before people.

The Consumer Energy Alliance said that’s not the case.

“They’re citizens too,” said CEA Executive Vice President Andrew Browning. “They breathe the air. Their children drink the water. They’re not going to turn a blind eye on the environment. You know companies should be held to a high standard.”

Browning said there are risks associated with natural gas development, though he said they are mainly above ground, but he added that there are risks associated with all forms of energy development. Ultimately, he said, the environment is something taken into consideration by industry leaders.

“Companies are kind of raising the level of the game, using more environmentally benign products, using better environmental safety health procedures, best practices and kind of laying out those procedures for the entire industry,” said Browning.

But anti-fracking activists remain unconvinced and continue to take action to slow or halt development in areas such as public parks. Also surrounding natural gas is an increasing number of lawmakers calling for a tax on extraction. Democrats largely support the move as do some Republicans from both the House and Senate, including leadership, Gov. Tom Corbett is opposed.

As for the future of the Marcellus Shale industry, Browning said it likely will continue to grow.

“Right now you’re seeing a lot of companies coming back here, you’re looking at the possibility of an ethane cracker in western Pennsylvania, so huge opportunities for development, manufacturing, jobs,” he said. “I think it’s going to continue booming here, so huge opportunities for the future.”

The DUG conference featured a keynote address from former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. It wraps up Thursday.