As a Board member of the Nemacolin Energy Institute, I had an opportunity to attend the 2nd Annual Marcellus Shale Conference and Golf Invitational. The program included educational talks from both elected officials and experts in the shale gas industry. The main message take-away from all of the speakers was that shale gas is a resource the industry and public sectors must work collaboratively to develop in a responsible way. Even side conversations among attendees reinforced the idea that good stewardship of the resource and environment was a shared responsibility. For me, it was encouraging to see genuine alignment that “doing it right” is job #1.
The program started with U.S. Congressman Mark Critz (PA-12) and U.S. Congressman Bill Shuster (PA-9) participating in a discussion moderated by Jim Samuel (CEO and Founder, Capital Integrity Group). Both Congressmen cited the historical role Pennsylvania played as an energy center in the development of our nation. For perspective, since virtually the beginning of the American Industrial Revolution, Pennsylvania has been an important coal state. It is also an important producer of natural gas. In 1957, the country’s first commercial nuclear reactor prototype was built in Shippingport on the Ohio river, and the state has become a national leader in developing utility-scale wind power. More recently, Pennsylvania has seen the establishment of new solar-electric, or photovoltaic, manufacturing and marketing companies. The Congressmen emphasized the important role industry should play in public education to ensure citizens in communities affected by drilling operations understand facts about shale gas. They also talked about the need to enact and enforce appropriate state regulations that protect the pristine nature of the environment Pennsylvanians currently enjoy.
Dr. Diane McLaughlin, Professor of Rural Sociology & Demography at The Pennsylvania State University, shared a preliminary look at some data from a market research study currently in the field. The data suggest the shale gas industry has work to strengthen trust of citizens. Dr. McLaughlin emphasized the importance of reducing fear by providing fact based education of the community prior to drilling, and by quickly addressing any problems or concerns raised by citizens when the drilling operations begin. For example, keeping heavy equipment off the road while school busses are picking up or dropping off children. Diane also spoke about the downside risk of creating boomtowns and the importance of collaboration between the industry and community leaders to create effective local strategic plans to minimize the risk of the characteristic boom – bust – recovery cycle. My own interpretation of Dr. McLaughlin’s message is that with proactive collaborative planning, communities can end up in a better economic position after the shale gas resource is depleted than before the drilling began.
Governor Corbett spoke and summed his platform succinctly as “Energy = Jobs”. Governor Corbett emphasized the need to “do it right” so the job creation potential of the Marcellus Shale Play could be fully realized. He highlighted that “doing it right” was in the mutual best interest of the industry and the Commonwealth. Governor Corbett called for fact based and not fear based decision-making.
The Honorable David Mustine (former Director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources) and Honorable Mike Krancer (Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection) discussed the importance of appropriate state regulations to ensure effective stewardship of both the Marcellus and Utica Shale Plays. Secretary Krancer shared that over one million wells using hydraulic fracturing have been drilled nationally since the technology was developed in the 1960s, and not a single instance of direct groundwater contamination has been tied to the process. Both echoed Governor Corbitt’s theme of focusing on facts and the importance of “doing it right”.
Throughout the two-day Conference, industry leaders also spoke. Each emphasized the important role shale gas commercialization can play in helping the U.S. economy recover and in creating good paying jobs for citizens in and around communities where drilling operations occur.
The last speaker at the Conference was The Honorable Tom Ridge (President & CEO, Ridge Global LLC, First Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security & Former Governor, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania). Tom spoke about the importance of shale gas in helping the U.S. become less dependent on foreign energy sources. He highlighted how development of the full range of energy sources from nuclear to renewables, including shale gas, will help minimize the ability of foreign nations to engage in “energy diplomacy” to force the U.S. to accept positions that are inconsistent with our nation’s best interests. “Doing it right” was clearly in everybody’s best interest.
When the Conference concluded, my optimism for effective public/private collaboration in developing the opportunity presented by the Marcellus and Utica Shale Plays was even further strengthened. And, my commitment to the Mission of the Nemacolin Energy Institute was redoubled. Based on the interactions I had with both industry leaders and public officials at this Conference, I amconfident the Marcellus and Utica Shale Gas Plays will be appropriately developed.
Here are some reliable resources for factual information about the Marcellus and Utica Shale Plays. Please consider sharing them with others as you feel is appropriate.
The impact of shale gas exploration and commercialization is a fascinating case study in the making. There will certainly be a number of important lessons on how to effectively manage disruptive changes that impact local community economies. As economic development professionals, if not directly involved we should be closely watching this case study as it unfolds. If directly involved, we should be doing everything possible to lead our communities to sustainable economic prosperity and help local leaders actively plan to avoid the potential of a boomtown phenomenon.
If you have experience or advice, please share. Hopefully. I have expressed my personal sense of optimism that Governor Corbett’s mandate to “do it right” has been embraced by both the industry and public sector leadership I have met. I am genuinely encouraged by what I am seeing and excited to see this energy opportunity realized for the benefits of the Region’s economy and our Nation’s security.
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