Effects of gas drilling in Pa. unknown, economist says

June 15, 2011|By JENNIFER FITCH |
  • Timothy W. Kelsey
Timothy W. Kelsey

MERCERSBURG, Pa. — The true economic and environmental effects of natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania are unknown, a university professor told attendees at a Tuscarora Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon Wednesday.

Penn State University professor Timothy W. Kelsey served as the luncheon’s keynote speaker, addressing Marcellus Shale collection in the northeastern and southwestern portions of the state. An economist, Kelsey focused on the impacts on jobs, infrastructure and populations.

“Marcellus Shale is a very deep, complex issue,” he said.

About six years ago, the first well was drilled into an estimated $1.46 trillion in recoverable gas in Pennsylvania, Kelsey said. There is no clear estimate for how long the gas extraction will last.

“There will pretty clearly be new ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ from this activity,” he said, sharing information about land ownership and mineral rights.

The natural gas, which is contained within the shale, is not as thick in Franklin County, so it’s not commercially viable, Kelsey said. Areas with better reserves include Susquehanna, Bradford, Washington, Fayette and Greene counties.

“What I’m seeing is many folks in these parts of the state see this as their economic opportunity,” Kelsey said.

He said environmentalists are divided on retrieving the gas, particularly a process called hydrofracturing or fracking. In that process, water carries sand into shale cracks, then the water is removed, and the sand left behind holds open the shale for gas to flow out.

“Public discussion is becoming more antagonistic and polarized,” Kelsey said.

Regions where drilling have started are having issues with adequate housing for workers, Kelsey said. Prices for rental units have tripled, he said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry said there have been 48,000 new hires for Marcellus Shale, but Kelsey said that includes a significant amount of turnover because of the demanding nature of the jobs.

Atlas Copco Secoroc consolidated some operations at a Fort Loudon, Pa., facility in 2010. Company officials said at the luncheon they had been focusing on equipment for quarry and water drilling, and copper mining, but added capabilities in Fort Loudon for oil and gas drilling after acquiring a Virginia division of Ingersoll Rand.

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