Range releases emails with state rep from Washington County

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PITTSBURGH (AP) – An area lawmaker says he’ll continue to ask questions about the economic and environmental impacts of gas drilling, but that he doesn’t oppose the industry.


Earlier this week Range released emails from state Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, that showed the legislator sought support from the drilling company in the past. The releases came not long after White called for an investigation into how the state handles water samples related to gas drilling.


White said in a statement Friday the invites driller Range Resources to participate in a “fact-based” debate.


Range spokesman Matt Pitzarella says they’re willing to work with anyone who wants to focus on the big issues, which are too important to not get right.


Range earlier this week shared emails it received from White, who once supported the company’s efforts but is now a critic of the impacts of Marcellus Shale drilling.


The emails show White once asked Range Resources if he could catch a ride to the Super Bowl on the company’s jet and separately complained about the company’s lack of hard work on a disappointing political fundraiser.


White said that Range is organizing a smear campaign because he sticks up for landowners locked in disputes with the company. He said the Super Bowl request was a joke.


Range Resources claims the emails it released are accurate and fairly reflect White’s relationship with the company.


White became an ardent critic of the company late last year and recently urged agencies to investigate how the state handled contamination tests at a Range Resources drilling site.


“I have been asked time and time again, ‘What has happened with this relationship? Has Range changed or has Jesse changed?’” Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella said in published reports. “And we believe these emails provide people with that missing context.”


In one email, White asks about “travel arrangements” to the 2011 Super Bowl in which the Pittsburgh Steelers played in Arlington, Texas.


“If the Range plane was heading down, any chance we could stowaway in the cargo hold?” White wrote to Range’s Chief Operating Officer Ray Walker.


White went to the game but didn’t travel with Range officials. He contends the request was a joke that he sent as “a good way to see if these guys can be trusted.”


Five days after Walker denied White’s request, the lawmaker formed Marcellus Municipal Co-Op, a group White suggested should hire someone to enforce land-use rules as drilling expanded.


Fort Worth, Texas-based Range has offices at Southpointe and more than 500 wells in White’s district. Range executives and its political action committee contributed $80,000 to state lawmakers from 2009 to May 2010, including $10,000 to White, Pitzarella said.


Range spent $1,000 on a fundraiser that raised only $5,000 for White, who expressed his disappointment in an email dated June 17, 2010.


“This was considerably short of the intended target and to be perfectly blunt, I attest the low turnout to a somewhat substandard effort in working your vendor list,” White said. In another email that same day, White complained that Range sent only one employee to another drilling industry fundraiser he organized.


He also wrote about his opposition to a proposed severance tax bill “while other members who profess to support your industry were busy cutting deals in exchange for their votes.”


Although White later proposed an annual well fee of $20,000, he said that even the $50,000 fee passed months later was too small because lawmakers took away local officials’ power to regulate drilling in the process.


White contends he hasn’t changed and that he still favors drilling.


“The political path I’ve chosen, in some ways it’s walking the political tightrope,” he said in published reports. “I’ve subjected myself to the wrath of the industry PR machine, but I’ve never wavered from saying I’m in favor of drilling.”


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