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Kathryn Klaber, departing from MSC, discusses state's natural gas

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Kathryn Klaber is the first CEO of the Marcellus Shale Coalition.
Kathryn Klaber is the first CEO of the Marcellus Shale Coalition. - (Photo / )

Marcellus Shale Coalition CEO Kathryn Klaber said she plans to leave the organization in the coming months as the group's leadership launches a formal search for her successor.

Klaber, the coalition's first CEO, expects a decision to be made around October.

"I think there's more than ample opportunity for those who have been in the oil and gas industry as it's grown over the last few years to continue to be part of that economic renaissance for Pennsylvania," Klaber said of what she'll do next.

Klaber recently spoke with the Business Journal about her start with the coalition, why she is leaving, what some of the top accomplishments have been and what's been learned on the public relations front in the past few years.

Q: Why had you decided to take this job in the first place?

A: Actually, it was the end of 2006 when I first heard about the Marcellus Shale and talked to someone who had moved to the area to get involved in developing it. And as a native of western Pennsylvania, and someone who had worked in various aspects of energy issues over my career, you can imagine how that piqued my interest professionally and personally.

So why say you will leave at this particular time?

It was a joint discussion between the leadership of the Marcellus Shale Coalition and me, and we talked about where we needed the organization to go, and I think there is a lot of satisfaction and support for what we've built. That is one of the main reasons that, yes, the timing seemed right. There isn't a whole lot of additional building to do.

We do an annual strategic planning process, and as we are going into the 2014 plan, I will certainly be in a position, and already have, to help kick that off. But we thought it was important to not be too deep into the beginning of a new year without giving my successor the opportunity to help give input into that plan before it's cast in stone.

Tell me a little bit about what recommended practices are and how they were developed.

I think the recommended practices have truly been one of the biggest contributions the Marcellus Shale Coalition has made to shale development in Pennsylvania. And I'm not surprised that you don't see them out there all the time, because they are technical. They were never intended to be related to public relations as much as safe operations that then lead to trust and confidence in the industry.

But we started that part of the Marcellus Shale Coalition back in the spring of 2010, and it really was in response to a lot of questions that the regulators had about how we were going to go about doing certain parts of our operations. So we sat down, rolled up our sleeves and worked putting pen to paper on what was the best way to do some of these things. We've spent really a couple years working on these within the organization, with key partners like state agencies.

The first recommended practice that we published publicly was with a lot of conservation groups. We got their input, we took from their material that they had already worked on, so we weren't re-creating the wheel. I don't think it's coincidence the track record, the health and safety performance of this industry, has improved along with the work and the development of our recommended practices.

What are some of the recommended practices that you think have really gone a long way?

I would go to one of the earliest ones, and one of the earlier ones that we released as well, and that's the pre-drill water quality practice.

Early on in the play, there was not a full appreciation by the industry of just how many of Pennsylvania's private water wells had very poor quality water. And that was understood by the General Assembly and certainly by the regulatory agency, but nobody had been able to move legislation that would improve how private water wells were developed and cased and, frankly, protected. And so we have a massive amount of problematic private water wells, and early on there weren't baseline tests done to determine what was the condition before the industry came in.

And now that document is out there and being used to make sure everybody is collecting the data they should, and then, down the road, that helps the business on risk management, it helps the public on knowing what they're reading and what it really means.

Has the political climate on the issue become more adversarial and polarized than you would have predicted coming into your position?

I've thought a lot about this. I would characterize the trend from when I came in early 2010, things got worse in that coming year, year and a half, two years, and then we pulled back up out of it. And I believe we're in a place that is not the end point, but we've certainly benefited as a broader community from all of the education that's taken place.

And I think what's characterizing the debate now is we can now see that there are some very vocal groups. … They are professionals at what they do, and they are getting compensated as such.

Now, that's not the full description, because I think the 12.7 million Pennsylvanians have a right to understand what the impact is, short and long term, to their cherished environment.

You said that starting in 2010 and for a period thereafter, things got, for lack of a better term, ugly. What did that? What dragged everything down? Was there a spark to that?

Well, I wouldn't say it dragged everything down. I think you had a significant number — and 2011 still stands as the year with the greatest number of new well starts — so you had rapidly growing industry activity without the base of education that we now have. On top of that, you have that private water well issue that hit big and was highlighted on a national stage, and that literally captured the attention of the public in an incredibly …. Irresponsible, I guess, is a kind way to put it.

Time has helped with a lot of that, the passage of time and the incredibly strong safety and environmental record of the industry in the years since then.

There seems to me, where we have a continued unemployment issue here in Pennsylvania, particularly among blue-collar workers, and there seems to be maybe a bit of a backlash by people who are waiting for the jobs to show up. Is that something that is being heard across the state? And are there things we can do better to plug our people who are not working into potential jobs related to Marcellus Shale?

No one ever claimed that one industry would make the entire difference in a diversified economy that is Pennsylvania. The difference that I think is most stark in my mind is if you look what the additional Bakken Shale development had done relative to North Dakota's overall economy, and it's a lot more relative to Pennsylvania's overall economy, because we have a much bigger and more diversified economy. There are blue collar, white collar, small business, large business — the diversity of the types of jobs has made a big impact. I think where some of the real benefit comes is if this product continues to be available locally … it's going to be nearly impossible to measure the economic benefit of so much domestic energy. That has benefits down the road that go so far beyond one job category.

Brent Burkey

Brent Burkey

Brent Burkey covers York County, agribusiness, energy and environment, and workforce issues. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at brentb@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @brentburkey.

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