New Castle News

Local News

October 11, 2012

Our Opinion: Power plant plan is one of keys to shale gas success

NEW CASTLE — There’s been considerable talk in and around Lawrence County about shale gas drilling.

But to date, activity in the county has been limited. Plenty of leases have been signed, and a few wells have been drilled, yet actual production is unclear.

That’s mainly because drillers don’t reveal what they find when they sink wells. Such information tips off the competition.

Plus, gas well production is more than drilling. Lines have to be installed to get the gas from the wellhead to where it can be put to use. That’s just starting to happen here in Lawrence County.

Another factor in the local shale gas saga is the price of the fuel on the open market. For years, the cost of natural gas as a commodity has been in slow decline, because of expanding production around the country. With falling natural gas prices, drillers have less incentive to tap new wells and expand operations.

This is why creating new markets is crucial to profitability in shale gas. The biggest example of this in western Pennsylvania is the proposed cracker plant in Monaca that would use gas from the region to make certain products — while expanding the local job base.

And this week, it was announced one company is planning to build a power generation plant in North Beaver Township that would run on natural gas. Presumably, much of that gas would come from the region.

Advocates of shell gas drilling tout its potential for providing cleaner energy while reducing demand for foreign oil imports. For that to happen, however, industries need to change how they use energy.

With coal and oil used in many electrical generation operations, converting to natural gas is an obvious way to move toward cleaner domestic energy production. For that reason, the North Beaver Township plant plan is welcome news for the area.

Actually, this type of expanded natural gas use is something of a trend. Yesterday, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection announced it had given its approval to the first natural gas-fired power plant in the state. This one is in Bradford County, which has considerable shale gas activity.

With what’s anticipated as expanded shale gas production in many parts of the United States, we envision an array of industrial changes designed to take advantage of the plentiful and inexpensive fuel source. That includes some companies converting fleets of vehicles to natural gas use.

And because this gas is being produced in and around Lawrence County, we anticipate the North Beaver Township power generation plant to be just the first in a series of local projects designed to take advantage of this new economic opportunity.

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