Marcellus Shale

Natural Gas Is a Long Haul Proposition

Vic FurmanVictor Furman
Chenango County Landowner

A recent viewpoint article in the Binghamton Press by EID’s Tom Shepstone lays out the potential benefits of natural gas development for the Southern Tier of New York based on a comparison with what’s been happening along the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania.  You can read the original remarks on which the article is based here.  This argument was met with some heavy skepticism by a Vestal Residents for Safe Energy (VeRSE) member who suggested the jobs would be short-term and mostly taken by temporary workers from outside the area, while the industry contaminates the air and water.  Let me, a layman who has studied this issue in depth, attempt to correct the record.

I cannot help but note the Vestal Residents for Safe Energy wants it both ways when playing with the numbers.  Not so long, some members were on O2E TV in Binghamton telling anyone who would listen that over 20,000 natural gas wells would be developed in the first year after New York finally allowed permitting to begin.  This was, obviously, an effort to inflate industrialization fears.  It certainly would be quite a feat to develop that many wells given there are only about 250 rigs in all of Pennsylvania and, since 2008, less than 5,000 wells have been developed there, an average of 1,250 per year or so.  Pennsylvania’s production over four years is a little less then 20 percent of VeRSE’s prediction for New York’s first year alone.  When it serves their purpose, VeRSE seems all too happy to claim huge impacts,

How many gas wells New York gets is anybody’s guess, but one thing we know is it will not occur all at once as VeRSE imagines.  There is work for over 50 years just keeping the gas companies and all their vendors busy, along with lots of jobs. Therefore, there will be truck driving jobs, heavy equipment operator jobs, concrete pad jobs, gravel pit jobs, road crew jobs, DEC jobs, well site inspector jobs, pipe fitter jobs, wielding jobs, railroad jobs, road repair jobs, landscaping jobs and forestry jobs.  Then, there will be support jobs such as hose manufacturing, diesel mechanics, heavy equipment repair technicians, planners, public record recorders, permit issuers, land deed searchers and so on; the list goes on and on.

Well Pad Location in Pennsylvania

Well Pad Location in Pennsylvania

VeRSE asks what happens to the gas-related jobs after the gas companies, water haulers and others have left the area. Interestingly, that’s not  a question asked of other businesses.  No one asked that of IBM, for example, or Singer, for that matter.  That is always a concern with any industry, but it is one we won’t have to worry about for another half-century or so because that’s how long we will, at minimum, be developing this resource and, after we develop the Marcellus, we still have the Utica Shale and other formations under us to explore.  The jobs connected with this industry are ones that will not go overseas like those at IBM, Singer Link, Singer Sewing, GE, EJ’s, Stow Manufacturing, Buckbee Myers and so many others that have left our area.  Why?  Because the resource is here, not overseas. Developing natural gas is the one job out there, maybe the only one, that’s utterly impossible to outsource.

VeRSE also asks “What steps has the gas industry taken to prevent more of the air and water contamination — now well-documented by the Environmental Protection Agency in Wyoming, West Virginia and Pennsylvania — that comes with fracking?”  This is a typical of questions asked by anti’s – full of assertions, assumptions and presumtions that have no merit.  The geology and development techniques in the Pavillion, Wyoming, area differ greatly from those in New York.  Also, the EPA findings there are so highly questionable the studies are being redone anyway, so there goes the VeRSE case that was supposedly so “well documented.”

Natural gas is cleaner then coal, oil and even nuclear, which is why organizations such as the national Sierra Club have come out in favor of natural gas development in the United States and the President has even endorsed it.  The VCSE talks of water contamination sources but Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the same EPA that VeRSE touts as a source when convenient, has openly and recently stated there have been no reported findings of water contamination caused by high volume hydraulic fracturing.

There are cases of methane migration in some areas, but New York State has added strict regulations that were so good in protecting ground water that over 5,000 gas wells have been developed in and around the Jamestown aquifer in NY and not one problem has ever been reported. There were open pits in Pavillion that held flowback and which are are not allowed in New York. Those pits, regrettably, were allowed to be buried after the evaporation process was completed and it is possible but not conclusive that this is what caused contamination to some aquifers in that instance. This will never happen in New York as we will have mandated closed loop drilling.

Natural gas development has come a long way over the last 32 years, and even more so in the last four years. We have stepped away from open pits, reduced truck traffic by piping in the water, reduced water usage by recycling (e.g., Chesapeake Energy and several mother operators now recycle 100 percent of their flowback), we have a closed loop drilling system that enables drilling without exposing flowback to the environment and so many  other improvements.  If you looked at a 1980 Lincoln Town car today and compared it with a 2012 Town Car, the improvements and technology would stun you in difference.

All of this leaves me with a question of my own.  I have been debating natural gas development for four years now and have attended hundreds of information meetings but have never seen the same enthusiasm from the anti-gas side as the pro-gas side, except when the anti’s are standing outside in protest.  Why is this?  Could it be because the anti’s are forever stuck in negativism, forever trapped in the position of opposing rather than proposing, forever blinded to the future by their insistence on the risk it involves?  It’s revealing that VeRSE dismisses the value of trucking jobs to the Southern Tier.  Maybe this whole gas thing is just too long a haul for them.

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