John Felmy has been returning to his old stomping ground in recent months to share his expertise as an economist to locals faced with what may be the biggest economic bonanza since the lumber era.
Felmy, chief economist for the American Petroleum Institute, doesn't work for the oil and gas companies, but many of the major companies are members of his employer.
When he stopped off at the Sun-Gazette's offices before a meeting with landowners in the Trout Run-Ralston area last week, he described himself as an economist providing "outreach" to landowners so they clearly understand what's at stake as gas explorers and support workers by the thousands pour into the region to tap its natural gas reserves.
He said his talks always get around to how to negotiate with companies wanting to drill on private land, and the No. 1 piece of advice he offers is to do nothing without the help of a professional, such as an experienced attorney, and when possible band with neighbors to negotiate in numbers.
The gas and oil companies are just like any other business, he said. They create jobs and provide services.
According to Felmy, "9.2 million Americans owe their livelihood to the oil and gas industry" and 300 million households rely on it for heat each winter.
He planned to tell his hosts at a meeting the night of the visit what he always tells people about the gas boom.
"'I'm going to tell them this is an exciting opportunity for the area," he said, "(with) 200,000 jobs (possible) statewide."
Felmy spent a good chunk of his childhood in the Jersey Mills area along Pine Creek, much of it spent playing, hunting and working in the woods.
Felmy described himself as still at heart a "dirt-poor country boy" and wants nothing more for the region's landowners and working people than for them to benefit from this opportunity.
Felmy was born in Clearfield and graduated from Jersey Shore Area High School in 1972 before going off to Penn State and eventually getting a doctorate.
He describes the region as sitting on "clearly enough (natural gas) for 100 years at current use."
He describes it as a "a very clean fuel" with half the emissions as petroleum and coal and perfect for use in conjunction with emerging alternative energy sources.
He said companies affiliated with the American Petroleum Institute are more than just oil and gas companies; they're "energy companies" and increasingly interested in the potential of alternative energy sources.
BP is interested in solar and wind energy, for example, he said, and several of the big companies are serious about geothermal energy, which may be easier for them to relate to because it has drilling in common with gas and oil.
Felmy said rural areas will be changed to some degree in the first decade of drilling, but it will never be near the extent of what the lumber era did to the landscape and will quickly begin to be erased by nature itself.
He doesn't work for the oil and gas companies and his role with the institute is that of economist and, because of his connection to the region, he has become the go-to man when someone is requested to talk with local groups.
He said he wants local residents to be prepared to tap the "opportunity" arriving at their doorstep.
"I think we can do it (and) do it right," he said.
"My father was a farmer in Sunbury," he said, "(who later) worked in coal mines 'til one caved in on him."
Felmy said his father's working life covered an array of manual labor occupations, including stints in sawmills and on pipelines.
"He worked wherever he could get a job," he added.