Official: Gas demand will continue to grow

WILKES-BARRE (AP) — The demand for natural gas across the country is expected to increase by 40 percent over the next decade and by even more in Pennsylvania, said Carl Marrara, vice president of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association.

He said improved infrastructure is needed to move Marcellus Shale gas to manufacturers, but government officials have been holding up the growth.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has been one of the “biggest impediments to infrastructure rollout,” he said.

“Government does not move at the speed of business,” he said. “Affordable natural gas and natural gas liquids are simply not getting to market because Pennsylvania lacks a sufficient pipeline network.”

Colleen Connolly, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration is “committed to improving pipeline infrastructure in Pennsylvania, and has been working closely with communities and the industry to ensure pipeline development is done with minimal environmental impact and that permit reviews are done in a timely manner.”

Marrara was among the advocates who highlighted the benefits of Pennsylvania natural gas at a briefing held May 24 at Misericordia University.

Borton-Lawson, Cabot Oil & Gas, UGI Energy Services and Williams Co., in conjunction with ACT for America and the Back Mountain Chamber of Commerce, hosted the “Think About Energy” briefing. About 100 people attended.

The briefing followed a state House policy committee hearing held recently at Wilkes University, where state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, spoke in favor of a severance tax on gas companies saying he doesn’t think they pay “their fair share.”

Marrara, however, said, “We should not be silent when policy makers threaten to tax this industry with new industry-specific taxes into oblivion.”

“We realize the monumental impact this vital commodity will have on industries in Pennsylvania,” Marrara said. “It’s time that we stop apologizing for the success of this vital industry. It’s the one and only bright spot in our economy right now.”

Pipeline projects

New projects are advancing in Pennsylvania, including the Atlantic Sunrise and PennEast pipelines.

The Atlantic Sunrise proposed pipeline would run through Northeast and central Pennsylvania and would connect natural gas-producing regions in Northeast Pennsylvania to markets in the Mid-Atlantic and southeastern states.

The proposed roughly $120 mile, $1.2 billion PennEast Pipeline would run from Northeast Pennsylvania to New Jersey.

Larry Godlasky, of UGI Energy Services, said that while there is a huge amount of natural gas in Pennsylvania, “what we don’t have is the pipeline capacity to take that gas and deliver it to market.”

He hopes PennEast will receive a certificate from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this summer.

Mike Atchie, of the Williams Co., said Atlantic Sunrise represents a private investment of nearly $3 billion to expand Pennsylvania’s energy infrastructure, spur economic growth and create jobs for thousands of Pennsylvanians.

The Atlantic Sunrise project was proposed in early 2014 as a means of getting natural gas out of Pennsylvania to growing markets along the East Coast, Atchie said.

There is a curtailment among gas drillers because they don’t have the capacity to move natural gas, he said.

“We see a growing demand for natural gas. We just need the pipeline infrastructure to meet that growing demand,” Atchie said. “It has been a long regulatory process.”

The Williams Co. is wrapping up some state permits and Atchie said he hopes construction of the pipeline could begin in late summer. It would take a year to finish, he said

“We want to start building,” Atchie said. “After three years or regulatory processes, it’s time to build.”

Mixed reactions

David Wasilewski, of Hunlock Creek, associate professor of mathematics at Luzerne County Community College, told the advocates he heard a lot about how “winners are winners.”

“There have been losers and there will be losers,” Wasilewski said. “We don’t know at this point what will be lost in the future environmentally and healthwise.”

As Wasilewski brought up the possibility of “significant health risks” and environmental impacts, panelists cut him off and asked him if he had a question.

“Sit down!” one attendant yelled to Wasilewski, as others applauded.

Wasilewski left abruptly and when stopped outside the briefing, he said, “There are losers. This room in here is a room full of denial.”

But there were success stories from those in attendance too.

Tunkhannock resident Dora Bennett, who attended the hearing, said before Cabot Oil & Gas came in, her husband’s grandfather almost lost his farm and had nothing.

Last year, he won Farmer of the Year and spent $250,000 for a new tractor with air conditioning, she said. He has six Cabot Oil & Gas wells on his farm outside Montrose.

“We all have brand new houses on the hill because Cabot came in and put their gas wells there,” Bennett said. “Did they destroy their property? Absolutely not. Grandpa’s property is actually better and the dirt road is nicer.”

Bennett worked at Pump & Pantry and when the gas industry came into the area, she said it boomed so much that there was a hiring spree.

Wyoming, Susquehanna and Bradford counties have “taken off financially” because of the natural gas industry and the economic ripple effects it had, she said.

Businesses benefited

Chris McCue, oil/gas and energy sector leader at Borton-Lawson engineering and architecture firm, said since 2008, oil and gas have grown to become 30 percent of the firm’s portfolio.

“That’s almost 40 jobs with professional salaries from marketing positions to administrative positions to all types of engineering positions,” McCue said. “That translates to $2 (million) to $3 million in salaries. All these folks live in Scranton, the Wyoming Valley, Dallas, Hazleton. We’ve opened an office in Pittsburgh that is solely based on natural gas and that now has 12 people that we would not have if we were not involved in the industry.”

Don Brominski, director of business development for UGI Utilities, said customers have saved billions of dollars because of the lower gas prices as a result of Marcellus Shale.

“Since 2008, UGI has had record growth in residential and commercial customers,” Brominski said.

Philip Medico, of Medico Industries, said gas drillers provided his company a huge opportunity to supply them with equipment and parts.

As a result of the gas drilling industry, Medico Industries hired another 120 people at its Hanover Township location, he said.

“Has the gas industry benefited our company? Absolutely,” Medico said.

COMMENTS