Saturday, October 17, 2009

Marcellus Shale Will Impact Pa.’s Rural Landscape

Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade
Special Sections Editor
Lancaster Farming
October 16, 2009

Editorial comments in red by Splashdown.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — For generations, Pennsylvania has been known for its coal, which heated homes and fired steel furnaces for more than a century.

However, in the past few years, a new vernacular has crept into the dialog for landowners in northeastern and western Pennsylvania: “Marcellus shale”. With the advent of technology to harvest natural gas from this mineral deposit, Pennsylvania is once again on the verge of tapping an abundant energy resource.

... Tim Kelsey, a Penn State economist, said based on current estimates, the average yield on a gas well will have a value of about $2.25 million. Given current technology and restrictions, the average landowner will have two wells.

“Marcellus can fundamentally transform Pennsylvania communities,” he said.


Kelsey and Tom Murphy, an extension educator, said for these rural communities, the flow of cash will be significant.


Murphy said Pennsylvania is a part of the second largest shale play. The Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region is also the largest consumer of natural gas. The proximity of supply to demand has brought forward the interest of gas companies to contract available sites.

“There is a lot in the economics that is moving this process along in Pennsylvania. We are looking at 100 year supply of natural gas,” said Murphy. “It’s a really big deal and we need to be thinking about this. We are talking about decades to do the production work.”

One company looking for potential lease opportunities in Bradford, Susquehanna, Sullivan and Wyoming Counties said that more than 83 percent of the available land is under contract.

Looking at Texas and the changes that Barnett shale brought to that region, the panel sees this impacting agriculture as well. According to Murphy, one researcher said, “millionaires don’t milk cows.”

The prediction they see is a change in the type of agriculture. Looking forward, communities will have to look at how to adapt for both the change in farms and its impact on the agriculture infrastructure.

Considering the toxicity associated with drilling, the almost inevitable potential for air, land and water pollution and contamination and the potential for these deadly toxins to enter the food chain, ignoring mounting evidence is like crossing fingers to deal with a time bomb.

CLICK HERE to read the Bluedaze report about how the poisonous air in DISH, TX has already killed livestock and trees, and how "some of the chemicals travel for miles ending up in our soil and water." Pennsylvania farmers need to be concerned. They need to bring these concerns to regulatory authorites who can protect farmers' investments in the land.

Ross Pifer, director of the Ag Law Center at Dickenson School of Law, said the learning curve for landowners is significant. ... [He] stressed that landowners need to seek legal advice before signing a contract to make sure their interests are protected.

The panel also noted working with landowners to address the multi-generational impact of the leases. With an impact extending more than a century, decisions made today will impact the family for two to three generations.

Since the start of drilling wells, the one limiting factor is water and what to do with the waste water that results from the fracturing of the shale to capture the gas.

Bryan Swistock, a Penn State extension associate, said state laws overseeing drilling were crafted in the 1980s and leave to question if the regulations address the current landscape. The other challenge he noted is Pennsylvania does not regulate its private wells. He said that landowners need to understand which party is responsible for the different aspects of monitoring the water supply, which is divided between the gas company and the landowner.

The panel also touched upon the legal battles being resolved in the court system. Most are tied to the early contracts signed for gas leases, which were signed at the fraction of the value of contracts signed more recently. Piffer said the issue has been heard by the state supreme court.

“It’s important for all of us, (to see the bigger picture) and understand the scale and scope of what is happening,” said Murphy. Several of the major gas companies have sold assets in other areas to position themselves to invest in Pennsylvania.

Massive change is barking at our heels and running out in front of us. Clearly we are NOT prepared. We need to dance faster and smarter. Industry has demonstrated again and again and again that it is single minded, and that it is NOT going to consider anything but making the biggest, fastest profit. Making sure they do that in a way that is mindful of individual, public and environmental health and safety and protecting our quality of life and vital lifeline resources, is OUR job.

We need to speak out, press our elected officials for legislation and regulation. We need to:



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