Workshop discusses Marcellus Shale’s impact on area

Workshop highlights natural gas industry’s impact on area

January 10, 2014
Jon Laughner of Penn State Extension, left, speaks with attendees following a natural gas workshop Thursday night in Washington. - Rick Shrum / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

The king held court in the courthouse Thursday evening.

“Shale gas is all over the world, but Marcellus is king. It’s the biggest shale play in the United States and world right now,” said Dan Brockett of the Penn State Marcellus Education Team.

Penn State Cooperative Extension presented a workshop on natural gas that attracted a rapt audience of nearly 50, many of them Washington County property owners holding gas and oil leases. They had queries about drilling on their land, past and present, and about their leases, pipeline work and related matters.

And they got answers, some not as palatable as they would have liked.

Brockett, Jon Laughner, also of Penn State Extension, and local attorney Kris Vanderman directed the session, titled “Shale Gas Update and Landowner Impacts: Leasing, Re-Leasing and Pipeline Development.” Each spoke, fielded questions to close the nearly two-hour workshop, then met informally with audience members afterward inside Washington County’s Courthouse Square office building.

Vanderman drilled home a point about drilling: Washington County is King Marcellus’ chief of staff. It had more unconventional well starts in 2013 than any other Pennsylvania county – 2,640, nearly 500 above its 2012 figure.

“Range (Resources) is far ahead (of local drillers), but all are big players,” said the head of Vanderman Law Offices, located in Peters Township, Charleroi and Perryopolis.

Range is based in Fort Worth, Texas, but its Marcellus Division offices are in Southpointe. The company has more than $1 billion invested in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

There is a lot of play for the Marcellus players. Laughner said “slightly more than 10,000 unconventioanl wells” are in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia – the heart of this bountiful shale.

And the play is increasing there as well as in the Utica Shale, situated below Marcellus. Laughner pointed out that Marcellus/Utica production in 2013 rose 70 percent over the previous year, a stark contrast to Barnett Shale in Texas, a former shale king whose production plummeted 6.5 percent last year.

Brockett pushed the importance of pipeline production, that it should keep pace with the increasing access to gas. “What’s happening in the region,” he said, “is wells are being drilled that are not producing. Why? A lack of takeaway capacity.”

Vanderman, however, said “I see a lot more pipeline work in Washington County.”

Laughner said an ethane cracker plant proposed for Beaver County, where he is based, could be a boost for Washington County. That type of plant takes oil and gas and separates them, and transforms ethane gas into ethylene, which is used in the manufacture of plastic.

“The more you can separate out, the more it will benefit (Washington County),” Laughner said. “West Virginia is talking about a cracker plant, Ohio is talking about one or two. We could have four, five, six cracker plants (in the tri-state) and still have enough ethane to move out to keep all of them operating.”

Leases were a popular topic. A company needs one to drill on private property, yet the length of a lease and what it all entails raised questions.

All three program presenters told the consumers to “have their eyes wide open,” be careful while negotiating a lease and be certain of all the details being drafted.

Penn State Extension’s next workshop will be directed toward those receiving gas and oil royalties. It’s titled “Shale Mineral Management for the Landowner” and will run from 7 to 9 p.m. Jan. 21 in Courthouse Square. The cost is $29 per person, $40 per couple.

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012. Previously, he was a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won numerous awards, including a Golden Quill, an O-R staff Golden Quill award, and four other writing awards during his 40 plus years working for daily newspapers. A lifelong Pittsburgher, he is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh.

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