I attended the Marcellus Shale Panel discussion at Wyoming Seminary Lower School on January 30th. I was a participant in the first of these discussions 2 years ago when both of my children were still in high school at Seminary. Since then the shale gas discussion has morphed from an ad hoc tutorial with students into a more community-minded information session. Still, while so much has changed in these last two years, I was struck by the sense that while younger people are more open to the shale gas possibilities, older people appear to be more skeptical.
As usual, the proceedings were very professional and the format was well planned by Rachel Bartron and guided fairly but firmly by Sem president Kip Nygren. Still, there was vocal opposition to drilling based on panelists’ viewpoints, just like always. There was honest concern about long-term environmental impact, just like always.
I like to encourage lively discussions about Marcellus gas. We should talk about it. It is the biggest economic impact on our area since the ’72 Agnes flood led to billions in recovery funds. To say I see this differently is an understatement. I admit, my company’s focus is fully tied to Marcellus shale. But even if it weren’t, after seeing what I’ve seen I’d still be pro-gas.
First, there’s the magnitude of the gas field itself. Companies are sending more than a billion cubic feet of gas a day from wells in the northern counties. This isn’t a temporary strike; it’s a long-term energy industry. Next is the ripple effect. The new mantra in Susquehanna County is, “if you don’t have a job, you don’t want one.” Third is safety. Decades ago, pioneering natural gas drillers used dynamite for opening the rock seams to harvest the gas. In the Marcellus region today they use a mixture that is 99% water and sand. Not only is the process infinitely cleaner, it is vastly more efficient. They can drill down a mile and then turn sideways another mile to within a foot of their carefully selected target. My own company lays gathering systems and we are careful to drill under every stream, swamp and wetland. Fourth is charitable impact. Cabot Oil donated $2 million to match a Susquehanna county hospital fund-raising effort which raised $2 million from local businesses. We’re doing better than ever and giving more than ever. Finally, there are the folks who live where Linde works. For the first time in generations, people in the northern tier have hope for a brighter future. Their children can stay in the area and prosper.
For me it’s simple. We need energy. Natural gas isn’t perfect, but it’s local and it’s plentiful and will last for decades. We’re harvesting this resource more safely now than ever in history and based on what I have seen, we will be even safer in the future. The oil companies are already here, doing business and doing good. People all over Pennsylvania are prospering. For the first time since the fall of “King Coal,” Northeastern Pennsylvania can look to private industry instead of the public dole. It is a bright economic day in NEPA and tomorrow looks even better.