E. Teresa Touey spent Wednesday in Lycoming County studying gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, even though she is from Delaware County where it is unlikely a single shale well will be drilled.
Robert Baker was there, too, and he is from Susquehanna County where there has been plenty of drilling activity.
Both Touey and Baker were among a group of about 20 journalists who attended a daylong program on shale gas development at the Pennsylvania College of Technology Center for Business and Workforce Development in Williamsport.
Rich Adams, environmental compliance manager for Chief Oil and Gas, right, explains to journalists how water is drawn from local sources such as Larrys Creek, and then pumped into fresh-water containment tanks.
The program, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association and Penn State University, took participants from the classroom, where they were presented with an overview of the Marcellus Shale, to the field, where gas industry representatives provided them with an up-close and personal look at the full range of natural gas processes - a water withdrawal point, gas compressor station, a remote gas drilling operation, a 15-million-gallon water impoundment, a reclaimed gas well site and a treatment plant dedicated to treating gas drilling wastewater for reuse by the industry.
Touey, a writer for the Delaware County Daily and Sunday Times, said the Marcellus Shale "is the most important economic development and environmental issue our commonwealth will face over the next couple decades."
"I wanted to actually see these sites," she said. "It's not in my county, but it's affecting our commonwealth. I wanted to see the processes in place and see how it's impacting (Lycoming) County."
Baker, editor of the Wyoming County Press Examiner and Susquehanna County Independent, said he has seen first-hand how gas drilling can adversely impact a community. The community of Dimock, now a model for what can happen when gas drilling is done improperly, is in Susquehanna County.
"I just wanted to make an independent observation of what was going on in other parts of the state with the Marcellus Shale," Baker said. "I'm too close to gas drilling activity in my own county. This was an opportunity to see what's going on elsewhere."
The Marcellus Shale is an organic-rich rock formation deep under the ground. It runs from the Southern Tier of New York state through northern and western Pennsylvania, western Maryland and most of West Virginia.
Although it long has been known the shale contained natural gas deposits, it was not until technologies were perfected in the Barnett Shale region of Texas, particularly horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, that the gas could be removed in a commercially viable way.
Development of the shale is seen as a huge economic opportunity for the region by attracting investment by large companies, creating high wage jobs and providing opportunities for local businesses. It also has raised concerns about its impact on the environment.
"We believe this may be one of the largest natural gas deposits in the world," said Lisa Powers, director of public information for Penn State University. "The Marcellus Shale is obviously a significant resource for Pennsylvania and a tremendous opportunity for economic development, but it comes with a lot of challenges."
Thomas Murphy, co-director of Penn State's Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research (MCOR) said almost 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could be removed from the shale using current technology.
It has the advantage over other shale plays because of its close proximity to major markets in the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions of the United States.
The natural gas industry has attracted new businesses to the region. In Lycoming County alone, 75 new businesses related to the gas industry have moved to the area, Murphy said.
The flip side of that is that local businesses find it hard to compete for workers because gas industry jobs pay more, he said.
Local officials are facing challenges they've never had to deal with because of industry impacts on roads, available housing and local infrastructure.
Tracy Brundage, Penn College managing director of workforce development and continuing education, said shale development is creating family-sustaining jobs in the region.
Many of those jobs are blue collar jobs that require some skills or training but no degree, she said.
However, because the industry is new to the area, many local workers do not have the "legacy knowledge" for gas field work, she said. Others cannot handle the long hours and work schedules associated with the industry.
MCOR Co-Director Michael Arthur, a geologist at Penn State, discussed the geology of the Marcellus Shale and methods used to extract gas from it.
It takes four to five million gallons of water to fracture a gas well, Arthur said. The process itself cannot cause groundwater aquifer contamination, but spills of drilling fluids and flowback water on the surface can cause problems.
The use of impermeable liners on well pads to contain spills should be a "best practice" used by the entire industry, Arthur said.
According to hydrogeologist David Yoxtheimer, most water used for the gas industry is removed from rivers or streams and trucked to impoundments at or near drilling sites.
Companies are looking to drill water wells as a less costly alternative to trucking water to gas well sites, he said.
About 10 percent of water used to fracture a well returns to the surface. The water contains salts and metals contained in the rock, he said.
The water can be up to 10 times saltier than sea water, he said.
Although the water must be treated before it can be discharged into streams or rivers, more companies are using recycling as a less costly, and more environmentally friendly, alternative to that, he said.
Following the presentations, participants were taken in vans to sites maintained by gas exploration companies Chief Oil and Gas and Range Resources.
Baker was impressed.
"Range (Resources) is not in my part of the state and is doing what companies in my part of the state should be doing," he said.