State officials in West Virginia are angry with Chesapeake Energy over the announcement that Chesapeake has signed a deal to ship ethane out of the Marcellus region via pipeline to the Gulf Coast for processing. A quick petrochemical lesson: Some of what comes out of the ground when drilling for natural gas is the chemical compound ethane—especially found in “wet gas” areas of the Marcellus like West Virginia. Ethane can be processed into ethylene, which is the raw material used to make plastics.
West Virginia and Pennsylvania have been heavily courting Shell and at least one other unnamed company to build a “cracker plant” to process the ethane (crack it) into ethylene. Building a cracker plant in the region would attract thousands of jobs and billions of initial investment, and billions in revenue from associated plastics industries that would sprout up around the plant. It’s like winning the biggest imaginable lottery jackpot when it comes to jobs, money and tax revenue.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, while holding up a release of new drilling regulations, has “quietly” begun considering different taxation scenarios for when and if shale gas drilling actually begins. Last month, the DEC sent 7 of the 18 members of the Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel three separate charts with scenarios for taxing shale gas production. The members receiving the charts sit on a subcommittee charged with figuring out a way to pay for additional staff and resources that would be needed by the DEC and other state agencies once drilling begins.
Bear in mind under existing New York State law there is already an ad valorem tax (property tax) that will yield a lot of money from shale gas production, but all of that money stays in the local community, going to the town, county and school districts. The DEC Advisory Committee is tasked with figuring out how to grab a piece of the drilling revenue pie in order to fund their own expansion as they ramp up to handle the demands of new drilling activity.
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A few weeks ago, MDN called attention to a new trend in the Marcellus and Utica Shale region—companies who want to buy landowners’ rights to future royalties (see this MDN story). It seems to be happening mostly in Ohio at the moment. These companies are offering to purchase a landowner’s potential future royalties for gas wells drilled on their property, paying them an up-front, one-time payment now. Think of those commercials you’ve heard where companies offer to pay lottery winners a lump sum now for the future long-term payouts, or settlements from a lawsuit with payments that stretch over years. That’s essentially what these companies are doing for landowners with leases in the Marcellus and Utica Shales.
Chesapeake Oilfield Services has just launched a hands-on training program at its Eastern Housing Center and Training Facility in Athens Township (Bradford County), PA. They’ve installed a working drilling rig at the facility to give new hires real-world, hands-on training. The primary aim of the facility is to teach new workers safe work habits while learning how to handle rig equipment. In addition to the rig, a water transfer system has also been installed to teach workers how to safely and efficiently deliver water from its source to the drilling site, especially in sub-freezing temperature.