Republican strategist Karl Rove told oil and gas industry officials Wednesday that President Barack Obama's promises of change may have propelled him to the White House but it was his actions that led voters this week to send a clear message that they aren't happy with what he's done.
The architect behind George W. Bush's two presidential election victories spoke at a conference billed as the largest gathering of drilling interests in the Marcellus Shale region. Outside the conference, more than 300 opponents of fracking - injecting water and other chemicals into the ground to break it up and force gas to the surface - chanted "It's our water, we will fight!" and "Whose water? Our water!"
The protesters contend fracking contaminates groundwater and can release harmful chemicals used in the process, including benzene, into the air near wells.
Appearing the day after the midterm elections, Rove touched on drilling briefly, saying he believes the political climate now will take everyone "back to a period of sensible regulations." But he spent most of his time talking about why Republicans won Tuesday night.
Rove said Obama's tone, the state of the economy and health care legislation are all things that drove tea party followers and independents to the polls. Obama failed to capitalize on what brought him to the Oval Office, Rove said.
"He had a unique moment to turn the page and usher in a new era, but it didn't happen," Rove said.
Going forward, Rove said there will be some gridlock but it's up to Obama to set a new, more conciliatory tone.
The protesters gathered outside the downtown convention center where Rove spoke zeroed in on drilling and, more specifically, the fracking process used to get natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, a vast rock formation under New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.
While many in the crowd called for a ban on all gas drilling, and some were anti-capitalists, others were pushing primarily for a ban or tight regulations on fracking.
Chris Maresca, 28, of Pittsburgh, walked his dog, Baloo, a mutt that had a sandwich board with "I Hate Karl Rove" on one side and "I love Clean Rivers" on the other. He said he isn't against drilling entirely.
"Just the fracking. I have no problem with industry and creating jobs, but doing it at the expense of our health doesn't make any sense to me," Maresca said.
The protesters carried banners as they marched from Pittsburgh's North Side across a river and down a downtown street to a small stage near the convention center. Some held pinatas shaped like oil derricks that were smashed open with sticks, littering the street with candy.
Josh Fox, whose documentary about the dangers of fracking, "Gasland," was featured on HBO, told the crowd that civil disobedience may be needed to ban fracking. He said the drilling industry is lying by characterizing natural gas as "clean alternative fuel."
"This is the fossil fuel industry's big push to kill renewable energy. This is the battleground for climate change, this is the battleground for renewable energy," Fox said.
The protesters reacted loudly when Pittsburgh City Councilman Doug Shields told them the panel has proposed a citywide fracking ban that he claims has a veto-proof six-vote backing.
Mark McConville, a conference attendee, uses natural gas at his Airport Express Limousine Service in Birmingham, Ala., which features compressed natural gas-burning vehicles. He drove one to the conference, and believes it's unrealistic to think there's no downside to any new technology.
"There's always a downside," McConville said. "But I don't believe anybody in the industry's intentionally trying to give us bad drinking water."