YOUNGSTOWN - Fireworks aren't scheduled until the end of a natural gas exploration conference Wednesday at the Covelli Centre, but opponents of a controversial drilling technique are planning to make some noise before that.
"I don't think they'll fail to notice us," said Ron Prosek, a retired high school English teacher who is helping to organize a protest of the Youngstown Ohio Utica & Natural Gas 2011 Conference & Expo in downtown Youngstown - the state's first such event.
Tony Paglia, spokesman for event organizer Regional Chamber, said officials are aware of the planned protest.
"It's America," he said, adding, "We want our members to be aware of the opportunities, but we also want the energy industry to know this Valley is interested in shale development. We consider the Valley as the manufacturing hub for shale drilling."
The expo is free to the public from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., allowing visitors to attend workshops and see displays by drillers, steel-tube makers, land-lease experts, unions, job trainers and other businesses involved in extracting what's believed to be trillions of cubic feet of natural gas trapped in shale rock a mile or more below the surface.
Registration is encouraged but not required, Paglia said.
The business portion of the day, costing $50, will run from 2:30 p.m. to the end of an evening business networking session, featuring a "Taste of Youngstown," the Youngstown State University Jazz Band, and capped by a fireworks show at 7:45 p.m.
Scheduled afternoon speakers include Joel Mastervich, president and chief operating officer of steel-pipe maker V&M Star, and David Mustine, general manager for energy with the state's JobsOhio economic development office.
Paglia said the session had to be closed last week at more than 700 registered to attend.
"There's interest from all over the country," he said.
Prosek said opponents also are attracting widespread support for their cause, which will include a march about 1 p.m. past the Covelli Centre and a rally in downtown Youngstown at 1:30 p.m.
He said thousands of emails have been sent about the rally, prompting interest from Cincinnati and Yellow Springs, near Dayton.
Opponents claim hydraulic fracturing can pollute water sources, disfigure the land and possibly even lead to earthquakes.
Prosek, who taught in the Willoughby-Eastlake School District, said the goals are to bring attention to what he called "another snow job" by the natural gas industry that hydraulic fracturing of the shale rock is safe, as well as inform people so they can investigate it for themselves.
"Our position is hydraulic fracturing should be banned," he said, referring to his group, the Network for Oil & Gas Accountability and Protection.
Paglia said extracting natural gas in a responsible way is important to all parties.
"Everyone is interested that the drilling process is done correctly and according to the laws of Ohio," he said.