Appalachian Basin

Being Loud is NOT the Same as Being Heard!

Much of the talk lately has centered around the anti-fracturing rally that occurred last Tuesday in Harrisburg and word from the antis is that all of their screaming in the capitol will lead to a moratorium on drilling in Pennsylvania. While I am sure they needed to be loud to make their numbers seem closer to those projected, my guess is that it actually accomplished nothing in terms of effecting legislation. While all of the radicals were wasting their efforts on make believe issues, though, another meeting this week in Harrisburg brought the industry and the community together to discuss steps towards solving real issues effecting all parties in natural gas development.

I had the pleasure of attending Keystone Energy Forum’s panel discussion on “Emerging Housing Needs and Opportunities in the Marcellus Shale Regions of Pennsylvania” Wednesday at Harrisburg Area Community College. At this meeting, three panels spoke and answered questions from a packed room, in an attempt to bring to light and address housing concerns. There was no shouting, everyone who wanted to speak was able to, and realistic solutions were suggested in a manner that is likely to see results. It was very impressive.

It is no secret there is a shortage of affordable housing in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania. While economies are thriving, unemployment is down and businesses are booming, people–both locals and transient residents alike–really are having a hard time finding housing that falls into a reasonable price range. Young people are having a more difficult time buying first time homes as prices rise, and new residents who have moved here from other states to work in the natural gas industry are having a hard time relocating their families to the area for the same reason.

This is because growth is happening in areas that experienced little to none previously, state regulations do not allow for quick development, banks are in a “housing crisis” so federal regulators will not allow local banks to offer loans readily and landlords have doubled or tripled rent in an attempt to cash in on the higher paid salaries of industry workers.

The purpose of the meeting Wednesday was to lay the issues on the table and try to find a solution. Discussions involved getting less stringent regulations for zoning and other permitting to allow developers to quickly build new properties, grants available to improve infrastructure, building confidence in the longevity of the industry in PA, and working cooperatively with the natural gas industry companies to fund projects.

For long-time industry workers, like Scott Tompkins of Talisman, this is a new situation because, historically, workers have relocated to areas  that experience continual growth and development, such as Texas or Ontario. Rural communities whose economies were in shambles just a few years ago aren’t accustomed to dealing with new development and this is something many in the industry have not seen before. It is something they are willing to work towards improving, though.

No decisions were made during the discussion, but the groundwork was definitely laid to move forward.

A great model for how the industry is already trying to improve the housing situation can be found with Chesapeake Energy. They recently built a training and housing facility in Athens Township of Bradford County. It can accommodate 276 workers at a time, has full laundry and dining services, and will ease some of the burden on the county that bringing new workers to the area can cause.

The training center “is the fulfillment of a goal Chesapeake and NOMAC had to provide a convenient housing option for all drilling-rig employees,” says David Fisher, vice president, drilling services at Chesapeake. “Our investment in this state-of-the-art training facility demonstrates the local job-growth NOMAC Drilling is creating in the Marcellus Shale and the company’s commitment to taking good care of its employees.”

Working to address the concerns that can come along with progress is something that will bring locals to the same table as the industry and have everyone working together to improve the communities that everyone now calls home.

Keystone Energy Forum will be sharing the video of the discussion, including the luncheon speech, with us shortly. Please stay tuned for an update bringing the footage to you.

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