Natural gas industry could create more jobs

Bryan Calabro, Design Editor

From the current drilling trend, within the next 10 years the economic impact of the Marcellus shale formation — which underlies 60 percent of Pennsylvania’s total landmass — will hit an all-time high throughout Pennsylvania. Job creation will be a result.

“NEPA has experienced significant job losses, higher unemployment, and net population loss over the last 40 years. The natural gas industry has created jobs in its own industry, but also helped a number of small businesses grow and become suppliers and/or vendors to the industry,” said Terry Oomes, executive director for The Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection reports the number of natural gas drilled wells throughout the Marcellus Shale formation has been increasing rapidly.

In 2007, only 27 wells were drilled in Pennsylvania. Now, the number of wells drilled exceeds 4,000.

“With over 4,000 natural gas wells drilled in Pennsylvania, drilling is more important than ever. The presence of Marcellus shale has provided Pennsylvanians with direct and indirect jobs, over 72,000,” said Samuel Denisco, director of government affairs at the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.

The U.S. Geological Survey issued an updated Marcellus Shale resource assessment in Pennsylvania, indicating that the “region contains some 84 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered, recoverable natural gas, far more than thought nearly a decade ago,” as reported by the Associated Press.

Dr. Sid P Halsor, professor of Environmental Engineering and Earth Science at Wilkes University, agrees people will benefit directly from natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania.

“Job creation as a result of Marcellus shale gas development for people’s development is probably the biggest dividend from the development of gas play,” said Halsor.

He said drilling into the Marcellus Shale formation is not a fad, either.

“Natural gas is here to stay for quite some time,” said Halsor. “We are looking at 40 to 50 years of natural gas development for the Marcellus Shale region.”

He pointed out the economic impact drilling has already had in Pennsylvania. UGI Penn Natural Gas has already started reducing its rates for Pennsylvania customers. This shows the profound effect natural gas will have on future economic success, Halsor said.

And even after these 40 to 50 years are up, Halsor said if economics are right, much deeper shale formations like the Utica formation can be drilled into.

The Utica shale formation is much thicker than the Marcellus shale formation, geographically extensive and has already shown promise of a commercial impact in eastern Ohio.

Gene Andzulis, petroleum landman with Gary A. Monroe and Associates, knows exactly what kind of commercial impact the Utica shale formation can have. Andzulis, a recent Penn State grad with a B.S. in petroleum and natural gas engineering, moved to Ohio because of a job opportunity to work on the Utica shale formation.

“Drilling operations have barely begun in northeastern Pennsylvania, once the pipelines have been placed and projects completed in Ohio, western Pa. operations will move east,” Andzulis said.

Andzulis said he understands the strong economic power natural gas has in rural regions.

“The economic impact natural gas drilling has is limitless. Creating new, high-paying jobs in a failing economy in a primarily rural area is not an easy task, a task now possible,” Andzulis said.

The Bureau of Labor statistics mirrors what Andzulis says about the creation of jobs. Employment related to oil and natural gas extraction for January 2011 topped out at 186,000 jobs, a 1,000-job increase over December of that year.

But there are many concerns about whether these newly created jobs will be safe.

“With any work site comes hazards,” said Andzulis. “Those present on a drilling rig come from a lot of overhead dangers such as well casings, drilling components, tripped pipe, etc.”

Andzulis disagrees with the argument of many anti-drilling advocates that the hydraulic fracturing process creates methane.

One of these anti-drilling advocates, Robert W. Howarth, Cornell Professor of Ecology & Environmental Biology, writes how the fracturing process creates methane in his scholarly journal.

“Higher emissions from shale gas occur at the time wells are hydraulically fractured as methane escapes from flow-back return fluids and during drill out following the fracturing,” Howarth said.

Andzulis combats this by saying, “The hydraulic fracturing process does not create methane, methane gases are naturally present in the earth, however during fracking, it may be released and find its way to the surface.”

Andzulis suggests natural gas is a form of modern-day coal mining. Instead of going deep into the mines, workers stay above the surface and operate large scale drilling equipment. Technological innovation has superseded the out-of-date methods of humans garnering coal. Now, he said, the same impact coal mining had on small towns, drilling has today.

The impact of natural gas extends past its economic benefit: it is claimed to be much cleaner to burn and better for the environment.

Naturalgas.org cites the main products of natural gas when lit are carbon dioxide and water vapor; both products humans exhale throughout the day.

Coal and oil, the leading fossil fuels up until natural gas, are composed of much more complex molecules, with higher carbon, nitrogen and sulfur contents.

“When combusted, coal and oil release higher levels of harmful emissions, including a higher ratio of carbon emissions, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide,” according to the website NaturalGas.org.

“Coal and fuel oil also release ash particles into the environment, substances that do not burn but instead are carried into the atmosphere and contribute to pollution.”

The creation of natural gas is quite an extensive process, a process that takes place over millions of years.

The Union of Concerned Scientists describes how natural gas is created: “Like oil, natural gas is a product of decomposed organic matter, typically from ancient marine microorganisms, deposited over the past 550 million years.”

It continues by saying when this decomposed matter is sealed off and exposed to increasing amounts of heat and pressure from being nearly a mile underground, a thermal breakdown process converts this decomposed matter into a gaseous state.

The natural gas drilling industry employs thousands of jobs across the U.S., 72,000 in Pennsylvania alone over the past year.