2017-04-01 / Front Page

Natural gas price rising

Increase in local production could follow


Tom Joseph from Epiphany Water Solutions shared details on his firm’s treatment system for polluted water that is a byproduct of shale gas drilling. Joseph said Epiphany is working with Coudersport Borough on a plan that would deploy the company’s first commercial system in the borough, feeding the distilled water that emerges from the equipment into the sewage treatment plant. Tom Joseph from Epiphany Water Solutions shared details on his firm’s treatment system for polluted water that is a byproduct of shale gas drilling. Joseph said Epiphany is working with Coudersport Borough on a plan that would deploy the company’s first commercial system in the borough, feeding the distilled water that emerges from the equipment into the sewage treatment plant. When area officials began forecasting a booming shale gas industry in the region, gas was selling on the open market at about $10 per thousand cubic feet.

Mild winters and rapid production produced a market glut and the price went into a free-fall that hit less than $2.00 in 2012.

Now it is rebounding – albeit slowly -- and experts believe the rise will continue, especially when new pipelines are in place to carry locally produced gas to lucrative markets. At this writing, gas is selling at $3.22 per thousand cubic feet.

What does this mean for northern Pennsylvania? Commissioners from Cameron, Potter and Tioga counties were in Harrisburg last weekend trying to get some answers.

For the better part of a decade, drilling outfits and natural gas producers have come to the region, bringing with them promises of jobs and an influx of revenue into area businesses.

While local economies have seen sporadic boosts to their bottom-line, the long-awaited explosion in drilling has yet to materialize.

According to Potter County Commissioner Paul Heimel, that isn’t likely to change any time soon.

“Gas prices have remained low for quite some time and that has postponed the predicted shale gas drilling rush,” he explained. “Statewide, it is clearly a boom, but locally, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see the frenzy they’ve experienced in the Northeast and Southwest counties. Signs do point to significantly more drilling when prices rebound and pipeline capacity and market demand grow.”

Heimel, Phil Jones of Cameron County and Erick Coolidge of Tioga County sit on the statewide Natural Gas Task Force.

“Things are a little slow right now,” Jones observed. “Low prices are good for consumers, but unfortunately it slows down the industry.” Potter and Cameron counties are in an interesting situation, in that each of them seems to have one company homing in on the shale gas -- JKLM Energy in Potter and Seneca Resources in Cameron. That means the future may hinge on what those companies do, rather than the broader industry needs.

The opportunity for much more gas production has been documented. Pennsylvania is currently the second leading producer of natural gas in the nation, trailing only Texas, and produces 20 percent of the gas that’s used nationwide.

Potential negative consequences of drilling were addressed at the task force meeting, including environmental concerns.

An innovation designed to treat the salty, chemical-laced water that is produced along with the gas in any deep well was unveiled by Tom Joseph, representing Epiphany Water Solutions. The company is working with Coudersport Borough officials to install a prototype of its patented distillation in the community, running the purified water that emerges into the town’s sewage treatment plant.

Salt would be sold for commercial use, such as highway application, and the remaining material that includes heavy metals would be trucked to a permitted disposal site. Joseph said the Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection sees the system as a potential solution to nagging water treatment issues.

“I believe the water remediation strategy would alleviate many of the environmental concerns, while also reducing trucking costs and the need for wastewater injection wells,” Commissioner Jones said. “The industry is heavily regulated, but overall has a relatively low rate of infractions.”

County commissioners have little authority when it comes to regulating the gas industry in Pennsylvania, but Heimel said that won’t stop local officials from holding the industry, state legislature, the Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection and others accountable.

“Our task force chairman, Commissioner Coolidge, set the tone for the meeting,” Heimel said. “He shared his personal view that the volume of natural gas underlying much of our state is a ‘gift’ that has the potential to greatly benefit our counties economically. But the greater calling on those of us who are public officials is to be wise stewards of both that gift and the environmental blessings that are so important to our citizens.”

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