The consensus at Friday's field hearing by the Congressional Natural Gas Caucus on the economic impacts of shale production was that it is a "game changer."
All of the panelists, local officials and community leaders, gave positive testimony at Pennsylvania College of Technology to the caucus on the economic impacts of natural gas production in the Marcellus Shale region. About 55 people attended.
More than 80 members of the U.S. House are part of the bipartisan caucus, whose mission concentrates on the importance of natural gas as a domestic energy resource. Representing the caucus were U.S. Reps. Glenn "GT" Thompson, R-Howard, Thomas Marino, R-Cogan Station, Gene Green, D-Texas, and Tom Reed, R-N.Y.
Thompson said it is essential as lawmakers to have correct information to inform their decisions. He and others said there is misinformation surrounding the drilling controversy. "There's a real need for science," he said.
Panelist John Augustine, of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, said, "I never saw an industry garner more misinformation" as the gas industry. "Everyone's entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts."
"I'm asking for the opportunity for a fact-based dialogue, so we don't create a sense of fear. ... Nowhere should we stop a landowner doing what they want with their land," he continued.
Lycoming County Commissioner Chairman Jeff Wheeland said in 2012, there were more gas wells drilled in the county than in any other county in the state. Currently, that number is around 775. He noted 75 percent of the county is under private landowner lease to the gas industry or available for lease through the state, which owns thousands of acres of forests and game lands. Act 13 funds have helped to revitalize the area economically, he said.
He would like to see federal funding to incentivize fleet conversion to natural gas.
In 2008 and 2009, high methane levels were found in streams near Route 14, Wheeland said. The cause was an orphaned well, and the industry acted quickly to fix the problem, he said.
Vince Matteo, executive director and CEO of the Williamsport-Lycoming County Chamber of Commerce, said the Marcellus Shale play has encouraged more economic development in the last five years than in the past 30. With the growth, young people have more incentive to stay in the county to work, he said.
"Lycoming County is better off than before the Marcellus Shale industry came in," Matteo said.
Brent Fish, president of Fish Realty, said the average price of a home in the country dropped 30 percent between 2006 and 2012, but at the same time, the price of an average home in Williamsport rose 17 percent in areas of oil and gas development. The area has been immune to the national recession, he said.
"Despite one of the worst economic downturns, our area...has thrived," Fish said.
State Rep. Matthew Baker, R-Wellsboro, said Tioga County landowners earned more than $163 million in royalties, and Bradford County landowners earned more than $386 million from January 2008 to December 2012.
The state's revenue from state forest leases from 2008 to 2010 is $513 million, Baker said.
Baker referenced a 2010 Penn State study which reported Lycoming County received more than $4.3 million in Act 13 impact fees. Bradford County received the most at more than $7.2 million. Williamsport ranked third in top receiving municipalities in 2012, earning $593,491.
Bradford and Tioga counties exported $2 billion in gas in 2012, he said.
Baker noted it takes about 420 workers across 150 occupations to bring one natural gas well to production.
Additionally, he noted more than $1 billion in Act 13 funds have been dedicated to environmental programs.
Clinton County Economic Partnership CEO and President Mike Flanagan said the economic impact also is positive in his county, with natural gas-related businesses employing more local residents. He said Baker Hughes, which opened in December 2012, employs 180 people at that site.
Seth Alberts, Alberts Spray Solutions, said his company adapted in profitable ways to the gas industry's arrival by making more durable, environmentally friendly containment liners for when spills occur, along with other products for the industry. Gross sales are up 25 percent thanks to the gas industry, he said.
Jeff Taylor, Ultra Pipeline, employs 22 people at their Howard site. The company began in 2008 in Virginia, and he noted the gas companies here "are very good stewards" of the land compared to what he's seen elsewhere.
One of the issues in Lycoming County is limited housing. Fish said the large builders are hesitant to come to the area due to the financial market.
Another problem is the lack of pipeline infrastructure to get the gas to market and to homes, Taylor said.
Patrick Henderson, Gov. Tom Corbett's energy executive, said the state is sitting on the largest natural gas play in the country. As of Dec. 31, 2012, there were 3,551 gas-producing wells in the state. There are 30,752 people in the state employed in Core industries, a 164 percent increase since 2009, Henderson said. Their average salaries are $82,643, he said. In ancillary industries, 214,302 are employed, a 7.9 percent increase since 2009. Additionally, $1.7 billion in corporate taxes have been generated.
Henderson emphasized the first responsibility is to protect the environment. Well construction standards have gotten more stringent, and wastewater that was being sent to grandfathered facilities was stopped, he said. Pipeline safety laws have improved, along with more transparency.
Henderson noted their advisory commission listened and voted on every recommendation made by environmental groups such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.