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Marcellus Shale gas benefits touted by panelists

Farms, public schools and colleges and industrial parks are among the beneficiaries of natural gas extraction, according to a panel discussion on the benefits and sustainability Marcellus Shale gas extraction provided communities.

The evolution of the shale drilling, or fracking, has positively impacted communities said Jeff Kotula, president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce; Alan Hall, a supervisor in Susquehanna County; Jason Fink, president of the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce and George Stark, director of external affairs for Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. and moderator of the one-hour seminar “Think About Energy” held on Thursday.

The focus was on the long-term benefits the shale revolution has had on residential, commercial and industrial communities.

From agri-businesses, rural farmers and land owners receiving tens of thousands of dollars in royalties to schools and colleges educating the next generation of gas industry workers, natural gas has infused its energy resources into the economy.

Up at dawn and sometimes not done until dark, farmers who were able to make deals with gas companies have prospered and been able to buy homes, renovate houses, build on and expand their wealth and continue on the tradition linked to many families by heritage.

With natural gas royalty payments, farmers and agri-business professionals are reinvesting in their farms, and improving their overall quality of life, according to Fink, who as president of the chamber has his finger on the pulse of many agri-businesses and farm-related industries.

In some instances, farmland that used to be assessed at $750 per acre has a value of $10,000 per acre due to natural gas drilling permitted on it or gas lines crossing it, according to Hall. Hall noted how gas has helped the upper-tier county bordering with New York state to provide more business opportunities and educational options.

Since the beginning of the gas drilling, which occurred more than a decade ago, Hall estimated that $40 million has been infused into the county.

Fink, too, noted how in terms of industrial growth, the county industrial park near the landfill in Brady Township has benefitted from the resource because of the installation of infrastructure that will be for business growth and benefit to the area residents with pure water, sewer service and ancillary businesses.

Additionally, Lycoming County has a natural gas power plant near Montgomery — which is not a massive employer — but a “great partner,” Fink said.

Stark added that a power plant such as the one referenced by Fink not only provides less expensive energy but also business opportunities.

Natural gas provides reliable energy and reinvestment and partnerships with corporations such as PPL, Fink said.

In terms of education, the industry experts are providing outreach into public schools and colleges, making students aware of the importance of studying science and mathematics for possible career choices in their chosen fields of work.

Shell Corp., for example, has invested in Pennsylvania College of Technology. The company has provided assistance to students entering new forms of plastics careers with modern plastic and polymer rotation molding equipment, Fink said.

While the Shell cracker plant in Butler County is not directly related to the natural gas industry, it is an off-shoot and it shows how the western side of the state has a ripple effect in Williamsport.

Kotula said natural gas careers have dispelled the notion that a student has to attend college to be successful.

While college is certainly available for some, the industry provides a career earning potential for a comfortable life, he noted.

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