By Joe Wiercinski
Herald Staff Writer
MERCER COUNTY —
The frenzied drive for oil and gas leases of the last couple of years, followed by the appearance of fleets of trucks and crews doing seismic testing and the drilling of a few local wells, is just the beginning.
Mercer Countians can expect to see, smell, hear and be inconvenienced in their travels by drilling and production in the next several years as development of Utica shale oil and methane picks up speed, say two Penn State specialists.
Dan Brockett and Jon Laughner introduced themselves Wednesday as members of Pennsylvania State University’s Marcellus education team to 80 landowners and others who attended a meeting about Utica shale sponsored by Mercer County Cooperative Extension.
The pair were mostly upbeat as they covered development, production and environmental topics in their slide presentation and talk.
However, they cautioned leaseholders and others to inform themselves and be willing to express any concerns they may have and discuss them with their neighbors and especially with the industry that has already begun to have a powerful impact on western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio.
“Utica shale will affect lots of landowners but it will also affect the work force and local governments,” Brockett said. “Depending on development, it could go from big to huge.”
This region has yet to see the degree of development that Bradford County has been seeing for several years. Pennsylvania wells are producing 7 billion to 9 billion cubic feet of gas daily but none of that is Utica shale gas from Mercer County.
The industry is using its experience in Marcellus shale zones to improve its technology and guide its exploration and drilling in Utica shale, Brockett said.
“We want people to recognize that this is a research and development zone,” he said. “We don’t have enough holes in the ground yet to know all the facts about the geology, economics and so forth.”
BP has permits and plans to drill 13 wells this year in Trumbull County in Ohio. In Mercer County, companies including Chevron, Halcon Resources Corp. and Hilcorp Energy Co. have 13 state-issued permits among them, each with drilling plans in different stages of preparation.
A number of things have to happen before large-scale production can begin here. Wells, once drilled and hydraulically fractured, or fracked, to release gas from the shale 2,000 feet and more beneath the surface, will require gathering pipelines, processing stations to separate oil and gas components, compressors and other equipment, including the “cracker,” or processing plant, proposed by Shell in Beaver County to convert ethane to raw materials to make plastic and many other products, the Penn State educators said.
Construction will be seen in the form of thousands of trucks traveling on local roads, and workers from here and elsewhere building the infrastructure. Eventually, Pennsylvania which has 45,000 miles of state-owned roads, will have 50,000 miles of pipelines serving the industry, Brockett said.
Their slide show outlined actual production in other areas of the Marcellus and Utica shale regions, as well as projections that forecast a supply of methane from shale so gigantic that U.S. industries and residents by about 2020 won’t be able to use it all.
That’s why massive business consortiums are building three pipelines to reach global markets through terminals in Canada, the Gulf Coast and the East Coast.
Brockett said gas would be chilled under pressure and concentrated into liquid form for more efficient shipping to other countries at the rate of as much as 7 billion to 9 billion cubic feet of LNG daily.
Changing the U.S. economy from its reliance on oil to gas is having an impact on water, air and land that for the most part, the educators said, is being managed appropriately by the industry and regulated by the government
With more than 10,000 wells drilled so far, there have been no incidents of chemically laden frack water polluting aquifers, Brockett said.
Drillers also treat and reuse 85 percent to 90 percent of the water that returns to the surface after fracking to fracture other wells, he said.
However, migration of methane into residential wells, as well as pollution of surface water from drilling activities, remain areas of concern, Brockett said.
Restoration of land after drilling or construction of pipelines and other infrastructure should be negotiated before work begins and monitored by landowners with the help of their lawyers.
“The bulldozer operator or truck driver never read your lease,” Brockett said. “If you have a lease, you are in the gas business whether you want to be or not. You have to manage what is going on on your land to see that it is restored after drilling as soon as possible.”
One of the questions asked after the presentation dealt with the failure of some companies to clean up land properly after doing seismic testing that helps to map underground geology in preparation for drilling.
Laughner, who lives in Lawrence County, said his neighbor could see stakes and location flags carelessly left behind on his farm long after the seismic testing company had finished its work.
“He found a thousand feet of cable, too,” Laughner said. “He found it with his mowing machine. He wasn’t happy.”
The farmer demanded payment for repairs but the company recently had not paid for the damage its negligence had caused, Laughner said.
On the other hand, other companies have gone out of their way to accommodate the communities in which they operate, he said.
“Open discussion of problems brings about changes,” Laughner said. “The industry to some extent listens to what we are saying in our communities and has adjusted operations in some cases to meet those concerns and objections.”
More information about Utica shale and gas and oil drilling topics can be found on a Penn State website: