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Natural Gas Resource Center: Not Taking Sides

August 25th, 2017

Jim Ladlee discussed the challenges Penn State University faces when “absolutists” expect it to become an advocacy organization rather than a trusted information source.

Members of the Potter County Natural Gas Resource Center Steering Committee recently met to plot the organization’s activities in the coming months and years. Leading the session were coordinators Will Hunt (Planning Director) and Jennifer Rossman (Community Development Director). Also attending were members Terry Cole (Pa. CareerLink); Al Haney (Gas Field Specialists Inc.); Charlie Tuttle (Triple Divide Watershed Coalition); Commissioners Susan Kefover, Doug Morley and Paul Heimel; Jason Childs (Potter Co. Conservation District/Water Quality Work Group); and Helene Nawrocki (Potter County Education Council). Guest speaker was Jim Ladlee, Penn State Extension, Assistant Director of Energy, Entrepreneurship, Economic and Community Development Programs, who is also affiliated with the PSU Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research (MCOR). Tony Siliano and Melissa Sankey, regional administrators for Penn State Extension, also attended.

Jim Ladlee’s presentation covered a wide range of topics. He emphasized that Penn State and its MCOR take seriously their reputation as a trusted source of information. Neither the university nor the center is for or against shale gas drilling, Ladlee emphasized. The information that is disseminated, as well as projections based on data and historical trends, is fact-based and apolitical. Steering Committee members committed themselves to operating with the same approach. Among highlights of his report:

  • Roughly 50 percent of Potter County’s 684,000 acres contain shale gas that could be subject to drilling. That does not mean it will be developed. Too many uncertainties exist to forecast the extent of development. Returns on the Marcellus Shale production (3.34 billion cubic feet produced at last report) show that it may be “marginal” in terms of the industry’s desired return on investment. However, early forays into the deeper Utica Shale gas (4 producing wells reported) suggest that the resource is more bountiful. Ladlee cautioned that there’s not enough data available today to reach any firm conclusions on the Utica Shale’s potential.
  • Production of shale gas will likely be a long-term phenomenon, whether it’s used as a “bridge” between fossil fuels and a renewal energy future, or as a longer-term foundation for both domestic use and exportation. Using a worksheet, Ladlee directed Steering Committee members through a formula to demonstrate how, depending on multiple factors, there could be 3,000 or more wells drilled in the county over a period of decades. Purpose of the exercise was to emphasize the importance of preparing for change and guarding against negative impacts on the environment, infrastructure, housing and other community resources.
  • Recognizing Potter County’s track record in water quality stewardship, Ladlee reviewed current practices in shale gas drilling and hydrofracturing. He also analyzed reports of violations and impacts on water resources. Greatest vulnerability in the drilling process, he said, lies within the first few hundred feet, where the casing passes through groundwater aquifers. A second frequent source of violation notices has been surface spills. Both of these underscore the importance of effective regulations and regulatory oversight.

Also at last week’s meeting, Jason Childs presented an update on the Potter County Water Quality Work Group. Among activities is the continued maintenance and data storage from water quality monitors placed in several streams in areas where shale gas drilling is taking place or forecasted.

Charlie Tuttle reported on the installation of water quality monitors on 18 separate sources servicing the public drinking water systems in Potter County. Real-time data being collected is archived for creation of a baseline and can also be accessed remotely for any sudden changes that might require immediate investigation.

Terry Cole provided a summary of local and regional employment opportunities in the gas/oil industry. Helene Nawrocki discussed educational/training opportunities for those interested in employment in the field. Both Terry and Helene commented that some firms report having trouble finding employees who can meet their employment criteria in the areas of physical ability, education/training and being drug-free.

Will Hunt, Jennifer Rossman and Paul Heimel gave an update on the launch of a new website, accessible at naturalgasresourcecenter.com. They will be working together to build each section of the site, with a particular focus on Resources, Business Directory, Information/Education, and Maps.

PSU Extension regional administrators Melissa Sankey and Tony Siliano reported that the Penn State Extension water resources education position vacated by Jim Clark’s retirement will soon be filled and his successor will likely be able to serve on the Steering Committee.

Steering Committee members agreed to resume a schedule of periodic meetings to educate the public on multiple aspects of shale gas development and its potential impact on Potter County. The public education process will also include continued publication of the Shale Gas Roundup newsletter, periodic updates to those who have opted in for the NGRC email mass-mailing list, and more frequent updating of the Natural Gas Resource Center website.

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