Appalachian Basin

The Marvelous Marcellus

No matter where you go in Pennsylvania and southern New York, the gas industry is a frequent topic of conversation. As it should be. In PA last year, the Marcellus industry was one of only two sectors in the entire economy to create new job. The other? The Census (needless to say, the Census isn’t likely to do quite as well in this category in 2011!) Plainly put, and whether you are a landowner or not, this success or failure of this industry in the future will impact just about everyone in our region.

But where is all of the activity taking place and where will it be happening as we go into the second half of 2011?, an online resource that connects the natural gas industry with local businesses, lets people know where the action is by sending around a map each month showing where permits have been issued and wells are being drilled.

Right now, the focus is on Pennsylvania, but they will be expanding their content to include New York and Ohio in the near future. According to the latest data, permits issued were down this month by 12 percent — while the number of wells drilled increased by 17 percent . More than anything else, it shows that companies are acting on their current permits and moving into the production phase.

The following map from PAGasDirectory shows the totals for January through April 2011 across the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale region: The accompanying chart illustrates the activity taking place in the EID Northeast Marcellus counties.

So why is there more activity in some counties relative to others?

Part of the reason has to do with the territory being divided into two water basin commissions: the Delaware River Basin and the Susquehanna River Basin.

The Delaware River Basin Commission, which encompasses almost all of Wayne and parts of several other counties, is still in the process of writing the regulations for natural gas drilling. In these counties, little or no activity is taking place past the exploration phase because, well —  it can’t. Once regulations are in place, expectations are that we will see a significant increase in this part of the state.

As can be seen on the chart, all the other counties that fall into the Susquehanna River Basin Commission territory, with the exception of Columbia, have some activity to speak of. Tioga, Bradford and Susquehanna counties border the northernmost part of the state, right under New York where the deepest pocket of the Marcellus is located.

Lycoming County is another area that sits on a deep pocket, just not as big as the one in New York. For the industry, it makes sense to go into these counties first because they have the most potential to yield gas producing wells that will help to provide revenue for further exploration into some of the other counties. Keep in mind Marcellus exploration is still in its infancy — we are only 3 years (in earnest) into the process and at least 30 years worth of clean-burning natural gas still to be produced!

Even with all of the activity differences in the two river basin commissions and 10 Pennsylvania counties that EID Marcellus focuses on, the major issues are still very much the same. Hydraulic fracturing is a necessity when producing gas from a shale formation — many are unfamiliar with that, and, therefore, are unsure about what it is, the chemicals involved and the environmental impacts.  Contrary to what some anti-gas interests would have us believe, this information is out there, required to be given and easily locatable.

The economic potential for the states as Marcellus Shale development proceeds is also something that can’t be ignored. From jobs to royalty incomes for citizens, the Marcellus Shale play is going to bring more money into Pennsylvania and New York.

Here are a few quick tips for learning more about the industry:

  1. Research as much as you can and use reliable sources. Energy In DepthPIOGA, IOGA of New York, ANGA, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, Penn State Cooperative Extension, PA-DEP and NY-DEC, just to name a few, are all great resources who will provide facts and sources for the information they provide.
  2. Attend as many events as you can for your area. Get out there, listen to both sides, ask questions and make people tell you the source of their information. If something doesn’t sit right with you, go home and see what you can find out about it.
  3. Go for a drive through one of the counties where there is a lot of activity and take a look at the process. Digging a pipeline looks messy when its happening, but months later you can’t even tell where it was put in. Drill sites take up a good deal of space initially, but when everything is finished it’s hard to even tell where it all happened. Very little is left beyond a few “christmas trees,” tanks and monitoring pieces on a small pad.

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