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Drilling supporters rally at Capitol

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Supporters of Marcellus Shale drilling and the jobs the industry has created rallied at the Pennsylvania Capitol Tuesday in an effort to bring attention to the economic benefits of drilling, as protestors called for increased taxation.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, which lobbies on behalf of the drilling industry, organized the rally and brought people from across the state to march from City Island to the Capitol. Organizers estimated at least 2,000 people in attendance.

“Energy equals jobs. Energy equals opportunity,” said Paula Jackson, president and CEO of the American Association of Blacks in Energy.

Brian Smith, a farmer from Wayne County, talked about how leasing land has helped to save some family farms from bankruptcy.

“When we started leasing our land to natural gas development, we stopped losing our farms,” said Smith.

Earlier in the day state Sen. Mike Stack (D-5th) joined former DEP Secretary John Hanger, who dropped out of the race for governor, in calling for a 5 percent severance tax on drillers.

“Every state other than Pennsylvania has an extraction tax and many of them use money from the extraction tax to fund public and higher education,” said Stack.

Democrats in the race for governor either have run TV advertisements or spoken of increased taxes on drilling in the run up to the primary on May 20.

Gov. Tom Corbett (R) repeatedly has criticized the call for a severance tax, citing the impact fee as well as the corporate net income tax.

Corbett has said since 2012, the impact fee has generated more than $600 million in revenue.

Following the rally, the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, a progressive Harrisburg-based think tank, released a statement criticizing the industry for “exaggerating its importance to Pennsylvania’s economy.”

The center points out shale-related drilling accounts for about 33,000 jobs.

As Pennsylvania looks at a budget shortfall in this fiscal year, the center also called on lawmakers to consider enacting the severance tax to try to offset future budget cuts.