Upcoming Webinar on Marcellus Shale Gas Play

Potter County Commissioner Paul Heimel One of Three Featured Speakers

The Penn State Cooperative Extension will air a free webinar entitled ‘Local Natural Gas Task Force Initiatives’, which will air at 1 pm on August 19.

The webinar will provide an overview of how county task forces are responding to the ramp-up of shale-gas exploration in their respective counties.

Information on how to register for the webinar may be found by visiting http://extension.psu.edu/naturalgas/webinars.

The following is the press release from Penn State Ag Sciences News:

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — County officials may sometimes find themselves in spots
“between a rock and a hard place” when it comes to pleasing their constituents, and
the boom in Marcellus Shale exploration in recent months has unearthed additional
tough spots for local decision makers.

While the impact of the shale-gas boom is uncharted terrain for
local governments,
county officials around the state are mapping out plans to respond to new economic
and environmental challenges and to share those insights with others.

Three county commissioners — Mark Smith of Bradford County, Pamela Tokar-Ickes of
Somerset County and Paul Heimel of Potter County — will be the featured speakers
during a free, Web-based seminar titled, “Local Natural Gas Task Force
Initiatives,” which will air at 1 p.m. on Aug. 19. Sponsored by Penn State
Cooperative Extension, the “webinar” will provide an overview of how county task
forces are responding to the ramp-up of shale-gas exploration in their respective
counties.

Information about how to register for the webinar is available at
http://extension.psu.edu/naturalgas/webinars. Online participants will have the
opportunity to ask the speakers questions
during the session.
Just as the practice of hydrofracturing disrupts shale formations underground to
release pockets of natural gas for consumption, the influence of the industry itself
has shaken some environmental and social foundations, causing new issues to surface
for discussion. The panelists will address some of the potential gains, problems
and public pressures their task forces have encountered.

Local issues include favorable and negative economic impacts of the industry, water
use, water quality, environmental concerns, increased noise and truck traffic, wear
and tear on roads, loss of local personnel to gas-company jobs, and greater demand
on municipal services, including police, ambulance, volunteer fire departments,
social service agencies and even jails.

There is also ample debate over use of public lands, payout of royalties from public
lands and private ownership of mineral rights beneath
public lands. Local officials
support the idea of returning funds to the locales where gas initially is harvested
through local “carve-outs” in the proposed gas severance tax, but they are uncertain
about the final form that legislation will take or the funding formulas it will use.

The counties — two in the northern tier and one on Pennsylvania’s southern border
— are in different places along the gas-boom developmental timeline and have
different perspectives to offer, according to Pamela Tokar-Ickes, who has served as
a Somerset County commissioner for 10 years. She said that the market conditions
that created a temporary slowdown in Marcellus Shale exploration served as an asset
for Somerset County officials, allowing them to “re-tool” their response.

“We have some lead time that not all counties have had,” she said. “We’re not sure
what the future is going to look like here, but we’re trying to take
lessons learned
from colleagues up in Potter, Lycoming and Bradford counties. Washington and Greene
counties have been seeing the impact for some time, but it’s new for Somerset.”

While so far this year Somerset County has fewer than 10 active wells and the state
has issued 28 permits for new wells in the county, Bradford County by contrast has
more than 350 active wells and 1,083 newly-issued well permits in 2010, according to
Commissioner Mark Smith. He said his county also holds more than 300 well-pad sites
containing 1,000 proposed wells, and gas companies already have installed
approximately 85 miles of large transport lines and 300 miles of gathering lines for
natural gas. He said the industry also has put in 21 miles of water lines, 21 water
withdrawal sites and 35 water impoundment ponds.

Potter County falls somewhere in the middle, picking up more momentum as Marcellus
activity moves westward,
although the intensity of exploration is still similar to
that in Somerset County. Commissioner Paul Heimel said his county had only a dozen
working wells at the beginning of 2010, but 17 more wells have been drilled since
then, bringing the total to 29. Industry leaders, according to Hiemel, have said
many more are coming.

Heimel recalled that within days of taking the oath of office in January 2008, the
Potter County Board of Commissioners was engaged in the Marcellus Shale natural gas
issue. “The first inkling that something big was around the corner was an influx of
abstracters, title searchers and land men in the courthouse and out in the rural
reaches of the county, clearing up rights issues and offering leases,” he said.

Heimel said Potter County has had waves of prosperity, including some gas activity
and manufacturing to complement the mainstays of agriculture, forest products and a
lively tourist
business based on its abundant natural resources. He noted that
citizens also were wary of downturns, citing an experience of “tremendous economic
boom and environmental travesty during the lumber era from roughly 1890 to 1910,”
followed years later by the “meteoric rise and devastating collapse of Adelphia
[cable television company] from the mid-1980s to 2002,” which he said cost his small
county nearly 2,000 jobs.

He said some people wanted the task force to be more activist but said the board’s
initial conclusion was to recognize the fact that county government “is largely
powerless to control the big issues” when it comes to the development of the gas
industry.

“Decisions on the key issues — taxation and environmental regulation — are in the
hands of the state government,” Heimel said, adding that public education and
bringing together divergent interests, from industry representatives
to
environmentalists, remain the twin missions of their task force.
Smith echoes this sentiment. “One of the challenges is the fact that the county
really doesn’t have any regulatory authority over this. So the only involvement we
have is through public education and being able to bring certain parties together to
solve problems,” he said.

“As a commissioner, you can’t sit in judgment one way or another. You have to refer
people to the right place. If they have a water issue, get them to DEP. If it’s a
road issue, have them contact PennDOT. If it’s a problem with a royalty check, see
an attorney.”

All three commissioners agree that the information load is enormous. “I’ve filled
three filing cabinet drawers full of clippings, studies, reports, regulations,
editorials, analyses and more — and that’s after purging,” Heimel said. “There is
so much misinformation and propaganda circulating that many people are
looking for
somewhere they can turn to get the straight scoop, and I think the Potter County
Natural Gas Task Force has earned that reputation.”

“Ferreting out the public relations from the fact — and that goes both ways — you
have to have a very careful eye toward the information,” said Tokar-Ickes. She said
that until July 2008, most people didn’t know about Marcellus.

And it’s not just the amount of information, but the complexity of the issues that
can bog down commissioners’ educational efforts. Zoning regulations are often cited
as the most effective means to influence gas drilling operations, yet countywide
zoning plans are few and far between. In addition, no townships in Potter County
and very few townships in Bradford or Somerset counties have any kind of zoning
ordinances. Public officials are working with one another to cross county lines to
craft some solutions.”

The prospect of a “local
carve-out” that could relieve local-taxpayer burdens
appeals greatly to county officials statewide. The County Commissioners Association
of Pennsylvania (CCAP) lobbied heavily to pass Senate Bill 1042, the state’s fiscal
code, which formally approves an extraction tax on Pennsylvania natural gas.
Municipal expenses are expected to escalate as drilling activity increases.

“The communities that are going to feel the impact should see the benefit from that
severance,” said Tokar-Ickes. “It needs to come back not only to the counties, but
to the municipalities and conservation organizations that are doing the work on
protecting our environment on the ground.”
Other officials are concerned that funds could still be diverted to the state’s
General Fund. “What does Tioga have to do with paying SEPTA?” quipped Heimel,
concerned that severance funds could be appropriated to bail out Philadelphia’s
mass-transit system.
“CCAP has asked all the counties to quantify expenses that have
risen or are expected to rise to make its carve-out. We are facilitating the
industry, and it’s inexcusable to ignore those aspects when that money is
distributed.”

“Roads and water, those are things you can see,” Smith added. “The things people
don’t understand are the impacts on volunteer fire departments, social services,
drug and alcohol prevention, jails, and state police.” He said that 60 to 70
out-of-state, gas-drilling workers had gone through his county’s jail system and
that a few extra inmates each month added a huge taxpayer expense to a small
institution.

The “Local Natural Gas Task Force Initiatives” webinar is part of an ongoing series
of workshops addressing issues related to the state’s Marcellus shale gas boom. The
next one-hour webinar will be held at 1 p.m. on Sept. 16: “Natural Gas Experiences
of Marcellus Residents:
Preliminary Results from the Community Satisfaction Survey”;
Presenter: Kathy Brasier, Penn State.

Previous webinars, which covered topics such as water use and quality, zoning, and
gas-leasing considerations for landowners and implications for local communities,
can be viewed at http://extension.psu.edu/naturalgas/webinars.


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