Natural gas locked in shale formations two miles or deeper throughout much of Potter County is coveted by energy companies, but early signs suggest it is not the bounty that has been documented both east and southwest of the county.
With that as his foundation, educator Dan Brockett of Penn State University presented a crash course on the topic to about 65 people attending this week's Potter County Natural Gas Resource Center meeting at the Gunzburger Building.
Brockett, an affiliate of Penn State's Shale Energy Education Team, has addressed regulators and policymakers across the U.S. and abroad. With just 40 minutes to share years of accumulated knowledge, he moved quickly between topics. Among the highlights of his presentation:
--Economics, political trends and energy dynamics all point toward increased drilling for shale gas in Potter County. That makes it incumbent upon public officials to focus their efforts on risk reduction in the areas of environmental protection, public safety and community impacts.
--There is an oversupply of gas in the Appalachian Basin, including Potter County. That glut has kept prices low, reducing companies' incentives to drill for more. At the same time, low-priced gas could be an incentive for other industries to consider locating in Potter County.
--While Potter County is already one of the biggest hubs for gas transmission and storage in the East, more pipelines are coming as the companies that have acquired rights and drilled for gas seek to move it to market.
--Industry excitement was focused on Marcellus Shale as recently as five years ago, but companies found that the Marcellus gas in Potter County was marginal - at least while prices remain stagnant. However, companies that have been recently exploring the deeper Utica/Point Pleasant formations are pleased with the early results.
--There have been roughly 110 shale gas wells completed in Potter County since hydrofracturing technology allowed companies to drill them beginning in 2008. While multiple factors make the industry unpredictable, signs point to hundreds - or even thousands -- more wells being drilled in the coming years.
--Negative community impacts that have been experienced in areas with intense shale gas development have included deteriorated roads, noise, traffic and business congestion, and water contamination. However, most of the impacts have been temporary. Early trends in Potter County suggest that there will not be a "gas rush," but more likely a steady and long-lasting pattern of drilling and production as market conditions dictate.
--Potential for water pollution ranks at the top of citizens' concerns, as confirmed by questions raised at Tuesday's meeting. Companies must be held accountable for following the laws. Issues of concern should be shared with state lawmakers and regulatory agencies.
--A host of political issues related to shale gas drilling are unresolved in Harrisburg, ranging from a proposed severance tax and pipeline regulations, to the authority of local governments, setback requirements and royalties/landowners' rights.