Sunday, December 14, 2008

Pennsylvania Natural Gas

By Darrin Youker
Reading Eagle

PICTURE ROCKS - W. Neal Barto farmed the high hills of Lycoming County, never knowing what was beneath his feet.

But three years ago, a land man from a Texas energy company told Barto his pastures sit on a veritable lake of natural gas, trapped in the rock underground.

Barto was one of the first landowners in this rural Northern Tier county to sell the mineral rights on his land. Three years later, a rush is on as energy companies scramble to secure leases and sink wells into one of the largest supplies of untapped natural gas in the country.

A formation of rock called Marcellus shale lies a mile underground. Stretching from the New York Finger Lakes to Ohio, the formation holds a vast reserve of gas. The largest concentration lies in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania once was a worldwide leader in fossil fuels, with its rich coal and oil reserves. The Keystone State is on the verge of again playing an important role in domestic fuel production, thanks to the massive amount of natural gas locked in the Marcellus shale.

And technology is emerging that could help recover coal and oil deposits that were believed depleted years ago.

Estimates vary, but experts believe there is enough gas in this formation to supply the country's entire natural gas needs for the next two years.

Natural gas drilling is not new in the state. Western Pennsylvania has seen it for decades. The state's oil and gas industry is seeing record numbers of new permits. Between 2000 and 2007, the number of new permits has tripled, according to a Pennsylvania Economy League study.

But the exploration of Marcellus shale is happening in places such as Lycoming County that have never before experienced such a land rush.

And experts say this massive gas reserve could help curb the nation's reliance of foreign oil.

Across the state, energy companies are sinking new wells for oil and gas production

Energy independence

America's energy independence was born in Pennsylvania. The nation's first oil well was sunk in Titusville, long before anyone heard of Texas Tea. Anthracite coal hauled from the steep mountains in northern Pennsylvania fueled the industrial revolution.

Experts predict Pennsylvania again will play a sizable role in U.S. energy independence. Tapping into the Marcellus shale formation is among the most promising developments.

"There has been a huge interest in natural gas from the Marcellus shale formation," said John Hanger, acting secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection. "The big increase in drilling is the result of the high price of natural gas."

With this abundant supply, America could start running a substantial portion of its automotive fleet on natural gas, said Dr. Terry Englander, a Penn State geologist who has studied the Marcellus formation.

New focus on drilling

Energy companies have drilled, or are in the process of developing, about 50 new wells in the Marcellus formation, Englander said.

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