2010-02-13 / Front Page

Gas industry representatives: ‘the future looks pretty good’

Two representatives of the busiest natural gas company in Potter County emphasized patience during a presentation before about 85 people attending the Natural Gas Task Force meeting at the courthouse. Bruce Sampson and Bob Dean, from Pennsylvania General Energy Company of Warren, discussed Marcellus Shale gas production and many of the related issues.

“The future looks pretty good, but it’s going to be a slow ramp-up,” Sampson emphasized. “It’s going to take years. We’re still in the development stage in Potter County.”

He said production probably will not reach levels being experienced currently in Bradford, Tioga or Lycoming counties for another three or four years.

Sampson confirmed that Pennsylvania will be a big player in gas production, with 10 to 15 years of active drilling followed by continued gas flow. Much of the gas will feed a distribution network servicing millions of customers in the Northeast.

“It’s pretty safe to say the supply will be there, and much of the demand has yet to be built,” he said, suggesting that a surplus of natural gas could lead to construction of gas-fueled electricity generating plants and manufacture or retrofitting of motor vehicles to be powered by gas.

Sampson emphasized the economic ripple effect of the gas industry, with motels, restaurants, retailers, suppliers and other sectors benefiting. He stressed the need for training opportunities so that local residents are equipped with job skills that will be in demand soon.

Traffic will be an issue, Sampson noted, with large numbers of trucks and heavy equipment moving through the region.

PGE is committed to a long-term presence in Potter County, the men pointed out. The company is investing upwards of $8 million in a major 75-square-mile “3-D seismic shoot” to learn more about subterranean formations in western Potter and a portion of eastern McKean County, beginning with surveying in March.

“Vigilance” was the theme of a presentation by a representative of Trout Unlimited (TU).

Robert Volkmar, a retired environmental science professor from Duquesne University who now lives in Potter County, shared details of Pennsylvania TU’s new Coldwater Conservation Corps program.

It’s an effort to recruit volunteers from across the state to monitor streams and rivers for signs of degradation, particularly any problems that could be caused by increased natural gas drilling.

“We have about 800 miles of coldwater streams in Potter County and that’s just one aspect that makes us truly God’s Country,” Volkmar said. “We believe there is a need for this kind of vigilance.”

Earth disturbances and other aspects of the gas industry have the potential to damage aquatic resources, but state agencies lack the staff and other resources to provide adequate oversight in the field, he observed. Volunteers are needed to fill the gaps.

This can only occur if they are properly trained and equipped. That could cost $400 or more per volunteer, so TU is seeking funding and plans to deploy the Coldwater Conservation Corps incrementally. Pilot projects are planned next month in the Sinnemahoning Creek watershed and in a section of southwestern Pennsylvania. Local watershed organizations will be contacted to build support for the program and funding sources will be pursued.

Anyone seeking more information can contact Robert Volkmar at rdvolkmar@gmail.com.

A spirited debate took place over a proposal by Gov. Ed Rendell to impose a state tax of five percent on the value of natural gas at the wellhead and 4.7 cents per 1,000 cubic feet of gas taken from the ground.

The governor forecasted that the tax would generate $1.8 billion over the next five years. Ten percent, or $180 million, would be carved out for townships facing burdens created by drilling companies.

PGE’s Sampson and Dean said that even though Marcellus Shale natural gas has the potential to generate significant income, at this point their company is incurring “incredible up front expenses.”

Those attending the meeting were encouraged to share their opinions on the issue with members of the state legislature and the governor.

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