The price for drilling a Marcellus Shale gas well in Pennsylvania that “misses” and is not economically viable may have just gotten a lot steeper. It looks like the state Public Utility Commission (PUC), charged with collecting and distributing the new impact fee under Act 13, is going to levy the fee on exploratory wells that end up not being productive and plugged.
UGI Utilities, a regional gas and electric utility provider with offices in Reading and Wilkes-Barre, wants to be the first utility in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area to offer their customers natural gas exclusively from the Marcellus Shale. How? UGI’s subsidiary, UGI Energy Services, announced last fall they would spend $150 million to extend the Auburn Gathering Line into Luzerne County. The Auburn pipeline will bring natural gas from wells in Wyoming and Susquehanna counties to Luzerne where UGI has operations and offices.
As part of the extension project, on April 7 UGI made application with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to build a compressor station in West Wyoming, a small borough in Luzerne County:
Opposition from a local township to a landfill outside of Scranton, PA that sought and was granted a permit to accept more shale cuttings has ended. Keystone Sanitary Landfill, a privately owned and operated municipal solid waste landfill located in Dunmore, PA applied to increase the daily volume of shale cuttings (leftover rock waste from drilling) from 600 to 1,000 tons per day. They also requested the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) change their permit so they could receive the cuttings in an “unprocessed or unsolidified form” (see this MDN story).
Terry Engelder, Penn State geosciences professor and “father of the Marcellus Shale” once coined the term “line of death” for the point where shale stops being productive. He was specifically talking about the coal region in Pennsylvania where once-upon-many-millennia-ago high temperatures that hardened the anthracite coal also “cooked out” methane natural gas from the shale. Geologists and gas companies know the area around the Lackawanna Syncline—a banana-shaped formation that runs through Luzerne and Lackawanna counties—is likely to be devoid of methane, but what they don’t how is how far from the Syncline the line of death will be found.
We now have another plugged well that helps indicate where shale is unproductive—this one in Sugarloaf Township in neighboring Columbia County:
Exactly one month ago MDN reported that Keystone Sanitary Landfill, a privately owned and operated municipal solid waste landfill located in Dunmore, PA (a Scranton suburb), had applied to increase the daily volume of shale cuttings (leftover rock waste from drilling) from 600 to 1,000 tons per day. They also requested from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) a change so they could receive the cuttings in an “unprocessed or unsolidified form” (see this MDN story).
There are over 100,000 compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles on U.S. roadways, and roughly 400 CNG filling stations. Add one more CNG vehicle to that number in South Abington Township in Lackawanna County, PA—given away as a prize to promote CNG awareness.
The price to fill it up? How does $2 per gallon (gasoline equivalent) sound?
Pennsylvania CareerLink announced they are offering a training program for those interested in working as roustabouts in the shale gas drilling industry for free for 20 people. The four- to six-week training course normally costs $2,500.
Pennsylvania’s northeastern counties stand to bring in millions of new revenue this year under the impact fee that Gov. Corbett is soon due to sign. Once the legislation is signed, county governments will have 60 days to decide whether or not to adopt an ordinance adopting the new fee structure, along with the restrictions it imposes on a county’s ability to regulate drilling via zoning (see this MDN story). Each county is allowed to keep 60 percent of the total impact fee collected. The other 40 percent? That goes to the state. The 40 percent is the “spread the wealth around” compromise lawmakers needed to strike in order to pass the legislation.
Here’s a rundown on how much in new revenue northeastern PA counties stand to collect in direct fees, the 60 percent portion:
Officials in Spring Brook Township (Lackawanna County), PA voted last night to prohibit shale gas drilling in half of the township while at the same time they approved designated areas for commercial wind farms. Those same officials acknowledged their vote to ban gas drilling may be meaningless under the newly passed Marcellus drilling state law about to be signed by Gov. Corbett, but they went ahead and voted anyway, having worked a year-and-a-half on the new zoning changes.
For years, the Keystone Sanitary Landfill, a privately owned and operated municipal solid waste landfill located in Dunmore, PA (a Scranton suburb) has accepted already-processed cuttings, or rock waste, from Marcellus Shale drillers. The landfill filed a permit application in December with the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that would allow it to accept unprocessed cuttings—cuttings in a non-solid form—and mix it with a lime-based material to solidify it. The process of mixing it is called milling.
The landfill uses milled cuttings as a soil replacement to cover the landfill at the end of each day.
There are many positive economic effects from shale gas drilling on nearby communities. Hotels and motels are some of the first to feel the effects, and restaurants. Grocery stores see an increase, as well as stores that sell clothes and shoes and other supplies. Short-line railroads also see a pickup in business from hauling materials, especially sand.
You can also add airports to the list of those organization that see a positive impact from shale gas drilling. The latest example: the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport has seen an uptick in passengers in the past year, due to Marcellus Shale gas drilling.
Instead of trying to regulate Marcellus drilling inside municipal borders, Benton Township (Lackawanna County), PA took a different approach when Southwestern Energy recently drilled an exploratory well. Benton hired an independent engineer to monitor drilling and construction of the well. According to township officials, the process has been “an ‘unequivocal’ success.”
Rather than pay legal fees to defend their legislation, the supervisors in Benton Township (Lackawanna County), PA voted Wednesday to change the language of their legislation restricting the drilling of an exploratory well by Southwestern Energy. The supervisors voted to grant Southwestern the right to drill the exploratory well back in June, but slapped 18 specific (and costly) conditions on the project, making it unfeasible according to Southwestern who challenged 11 of the 18 conditions. The supervisors changed 9 of those 11 yesterday.
Those who oppose drilling are trying a new tactic. Their argument is that (a) gas drilling pollutes the air and the water, (b) clean air and water are basic human rights, therefore (c) gas drilling must be banned in order to protect human rights. Here is an example of that argument from a town meeting in Newton Township (Lackawanna County), PA, convened for the purpose of organizing against drilling:
MDN has previously covered the economic benefits of drilling and its impact on local lodging—hotels, motels and even apartment rentals. More evidence of that below, plus a new website to help workers visiting PA find lodging.
It seems drilling in the Marcellus is not only good for landowners and energy companies, but also for education and jobs. From an article published on iStockAnalyst (reprinted from The Daily Review, Towanda, PA):
Lackawanna College will begin offering an associate’s degree this fall in natural gas technology to prepare students to work in the growing local natural gas industry, and many of the required courses for the degree will be offered at the college’s Towanda Center.
In addition, Lackawanna College will soon start giving accounting students at the college’s Towanda Center the option of customizing their degree to prepare them to work in the accounting side of the natural gas industry, said Larry D. Milliken, director of energy programs at the college.
And the college is in the process of contracting with Sage Technical Services of Vestal, N.Y., so that its Towanda Center can again offer training to students who wish to obtain a commercial driver’s license, as there will be a large number of trucks required when drilling for gas, he said.
And this on the number of new jobs that will be created from Marcellus drilling activities:
“Development of the Marcellus Shale gas is expected to generate over 90,000 jobs over the next 20 years,” states a press release from Lackawanna College, which this week announced the launching of the natural gas technology program. “This kind of job growth and economic stimulus to northeastern Pennsylvania will be transforming to our region and to the lives of those people who get the technical education and training needed to take advantage of the best job opportunities as they arise.”
The new applied science degree in Oil and Gas Production Technology will be available at the college’s main campus in Scranton, and some of the other satellite locations, in addition to Towanda.
For more information about the new program, read the article Lackawanna College to Offer Natural Gas Technology Degree, read Lackawanna College’s news release, or contact Lackawanna College’s Department of Continuing Education at (570) 961-7883.