Friday, April 3, 2009

Marcellus Shale: What Government Needs To Know

The following is an excellent article describing the many aspects of a the Marcellus Shale Gas Play. It is designed to inform local government officials, but it is valuable to anyone with an interest in geology, engineering, economic impacts, and more. The article is written and made available by Penn State University. It is a long article in .pdf format, so will present it here in stages. The entire article can be viewed here.

Marcellus Shale: What Local Government Officials Need To Know From Penn State University

Natural gas has been extracted from underground
sources in Pennsylvania since the early 1800s,
with the state currently hosting about 40,000
active gas wells and approximately 4,000 new wells
drilled each year. Most of these wells tap gas reserves
a few thousand feet below the earth’s surface, but
new technologies—in particular, horizontal drilling
and hydraulic fracturing—are making gas extraction
from deep reserves such as the Marcellus shale more
economically feasible.

Increasing demand for cleaner
domestic energy will bring about continuing exploration.
The gas industry is seeking points of access
to high-volume reservoirs of natural gas, called
“plays,” that lie far below the hills and valleys of

The potentially large economic impact of natural
gas exploration and extraction, with estimates of up
to $500 billion in recoverable gas in Pennsylvania,
could be a valuable economic stimulus for Pennsylvania
As landowners receive
compensation for the use of the resource and as the
gas industry develops the regional drilling infrastructure,
the economic gains can pose significant
benefits for the entire community.

Yet there will be
challenges and costs accompanying these benefits;
the scale of drilling activity may increase the local
population, pressuring local housing markets,
schools, and local government services. There will
be environmental impacts, particularly on water use
and quality, forest defragmentation, and wildlife.
Local leaders and communities need to be aware of
how natural gas drilling may affect them and their
residents, how these disturbances may occur, and how
to manage them.

It’s Important to Remember...
While the gas industry can greatly benefit a
community and its residents, it is vital throughout the
interest and development of the Marcellus for citizens,
local officials, and community members to constantly
remember that this is a nonrenewable natural resource.
If this natural gas “play” evolves as people suggest, it
could have economic benefits for Pennsylvania for the
next thirty to fifty years.
Throughout this time, local
leaders and citizens should be thinking about how the
short-run opportunities and benefits of these plays can
both benefit and distress their local communities and
the state of Pennsylvania in the long run. The large
amounts of income and capital that may be generated
from Marcellus give communities and citizens the
chance to invest for the extended future, not just for
short run gain.

While these opportunities unfold, it is
crucial that local communities remain aware of the
effects drilling activity will have on the environment
and on the social fabric of their areas.

The Commonwealth already has prime examples
of what happens when the long run is forgotten and
is now paying the price as it tries to remediate the
negative impacts resulting from acid mine drainage
and abandoned coal mines. The method of extraction
used for Marcellus shale is a young technology that
may harbor repercussions that have yet to be documented
or encountered.

The challenge, but also the
opportunity for local officials and citizens, is to do
the most we can to help the Marcellus drilling leave
Pennsylvania better off once it has played out.
An important economic factor in whether or not
communities experience beneficial impacts depends
critically on how many of these new dollars stay
within Pennsylvania communities.

Will it be Pennsylvanians
who get the jobs? Will workers from other
states move into Pennsylvania and become active
members of their communities or will they simply
commute? Will the gas companies and supporting
industries locate in Pennsylvania? To what extent will
Pennsylvania businesses provide the services that the
gas companies require? Will the wages workers earn
and the royalties landowners receive be spent within
Pennsylvania or will they go elsewhere? The answers
to these questions are vital in helping communities
grasp how and why they must prepare and plan for
the growing gas industry in a way that will enable
them to fully benefit.

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