Locomotive Breath

US Shale Gas Revolution, Enabled by Hydraulic Fracturing, Generating Jobs, Reviving Old Train Towns – Exactly What Jethro Tull Had in Mind

We all know that safe, responsible, well-regulated natural gas production from dense, shale rock formations is helping to drive down energy prices and foreign dependence, and creating a heck of a lot of good-paying jobs, too. Hydraulic fracturing – a 60-year old energy stimulation technique used in 9 out of 10 wells nationwide – is the technological linchpin to unlocking the nearly 100 years of clean-burning, homegrown natural gas supplies. The fluids used in the fracturing process are made up of more than 99.5 percent water and sand. And as gas production continues to expand throughout Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale – considered to be the world’s second largest natural gas reservoir – the demand for sand and freight rail to move equipment continues to increase.




Yesterday’s Williamsport (PA) Sun-Gazette reports this under the headline “Marcellus Shale exploration credited in need for new locomotives”:

The Wellsboro and Corning Railroad took delivery of four SD 40-2 locomotives last month, and the burgeoning Marcellus Shale natural gas industry is the main reason the powerful locomotives are needed.

According to Tom Myles IV, chief financial officer of the Myles Group, owners of the railroad, “The additional power is necessary to support the demands of the growing gas related industries in Pennsylvania. Because the need for transportation of gas-related products is so great, we have added the locomotives to increase the ability to run longer, more economical and environmentally sound trains.”

The Wilkes-Barre (PA) Times Leader reports this recently in a story entitled “Old Duryea railroad yard taking on new life; Rail cars of sand to be used in Marcellus Shale natural gas extraction get a home”:

Investment spurred by Marcellus Shale natural gas exploration has transformed an antiquated, weed-ridden rail yard just north of Pittston into a state-of-the-art transloading terminal teeming with rail and trucking activity on an almost daily basis.

Over the last year, Reading & Northern Railroad Co. sunk $100,000 into Pittston Yard, laying new track to accommodate 100 new rail cars and constructing a facility to store and hold up to 800 cars of sand to be used in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” operations at Marcellus Shale drill sites throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania, said Reading & Northern President Warren A. Michel.

“The reason for our success is that we are the largest facility in the region capable of handling hundreds of rail cars of sand. We now have 130 (sand) rail cars at the yard and we’ll be expanding substantially over the next six months,” Michel said.

The company rewarded its full-time employees for their work on the project and throughout last year with an extra week of paid vacation this year and a paid trip to their choice of either Disney World; Branson, Mo.; Williamsburg, Va.; London; or a cruise.

Because of a number of factors including the Marcellus Shale drilling industry, Reading & Northern has hired 10 new employees over the last two months.

And last week, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that “Marcellus Shale sends short-line railroad booming.” This from the Inquirer’s Andrew Maykuth:

Nobody knew there was gold in the sand.

When A.T. “Tom” Myles approached officials in this town three years ago about taking over the ailing Wellsboro & Corning Railroad, he thought the 35-mile short line had potential for transporting lumber to market from northern Pennsylvania.

But that was before the Marcellus Shale natural-gas boom took off and exploration companies were clambering to import sand into Pennsylvania – millions of pounds of special sand used to develop gas wells.

“I didn’t even know about the sand when I came in here. I just wanted the railway,” said Myles, 65, a fourth-generation railroader from Exton. He is chief executive of the Myles Group, a collection of companies his family owns and operates from Chester County.

Maykuth notes that the uptick in freight rail demand from the Marcellus shale is creating jobs:

In the two years since Myles took over the Wellsboro & Corning line, cargo traffic has nearly tripled, to 849 railcars last year, the most in its modern history. In a recession, Myles has hired 10 people to transfer sand from the cars into trucks.

He anticipates that business will nearly double this year, to 1,600 railcars. Almost all of that is sand used in hydraulic fracturing, the process that shatters the dense Marcellus Shale under high pressure to unlock its stores of natural gas.

The gas industry’s huge appetite for what is known as “frack sand” has spurred a rebirth for the struggling railroad, whose previous operator gave up just before the gas boom.

Michael Ming, president of Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America, tells CNN that “We’ve basically won the lottery,” when it comes to American shale gas. He’s right – we have. More affordable, cleaner energy; less dependence on unstable regions of the world to fuel our economy; and tens of thousands of good-paying jobs – who’d be against that? We could think of a few folks who continue to distort facts and lodge baseless attacks on American energy producers, especially as it relates to fracturing technologies. But here are the facts.

Donald Siegel, a Syracuse earth sciences professor who holds a PhD in hydrogeology, writes this in yesterday’s Binghamton (NY) Press & Sun-Bulletin in a column entitled “Unfounded fears obscure facts; Public needs to understand science behind shale’s potential”:

The long-term history of gas production and the science behind it show that recent public fears of hydro-fracking are misplaced.

The water in rock thousands of feet deep is disconnected from our lakes, rivers and shallow aquifers. Hydro-fracking cannot break through these thousands of feet of rock all the way up to reach shallow aquifers.

Organic compounds in hydro-frack, flow-back water naturally biodegrade, are miniscule when measured, and trivial when considered in the context of how much raw boat fuel discharges every year in New York waters from inefficient outboard motors.

And Scott Cline, a petroleum engineering PhD, writes this in recent Binghamton (NY) Press & Sun-Bulletin op-ed under the headline “Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Will Not Contaminate NY Drinking Water”:

The rare cases of increased water well methane that everyone gets excited about are not related to the horizontal drilling and fracture stimulation specifically. Rarely, naturally occurring very shallow gas zones create problems when cementing surface casing in any type of well whether vertical or horizontal which can lead to the shallow gas zone bleeding into aquifers. This is rare, can be fixed with re-cementing and the methane and water turbulence will dissipate over time. DEC will require strict surface casing procedures and certification. Absolutely no frac fluid is entering the USDW from the fracture process.

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