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October 23, 2012

Your Energy Future: Latest analysis suggests shale gas layer is richer than previously believed

NEW CASTLE — So how much natural gas is in the Marcellus Shale?

And, specifically, how much is under Lawrence County?

But beyond that, how much is in the Utica Shale layer that lies below the Marcellus?

The answer to these questions is: We’re not sure. However, a recent report by some private analysts suggests the amount of gas is considerably greater than previously believed.

Reserves of natural gas in the shale layer are speculative. One reason is that it’s not evenly distributed throughout the shale.

When push comes to shove, the only way to determine with accuracy how much gas is present in a given area is by drilling for it.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration provides estimates about how much gas is in the Marcellus shale. And recently, it has been scaling back its numbers dramatically.

Earlier this year, it cut the estimates of Marcellus Shale natural gas reserves from 410 trillion to 141 trillion cubic feet — a huge drop.

But researchers for Standard and Poor’s say the Marcellus Shale may contain as much as half the known reserves of natural gas in the United States. And ITG Investment Research findings say the government’s estimates are “grossly understated.”

What’s more, the researchers say that the gas in the Marcellus Shale is more accessible and easier to recover than other deep gas resources in the United States.

If true, all of these findings suggest the Marcellus Shale — primarily under Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia — will become an even more desirable area for drilling and gas extraction.

What does this mean for Lawrence County? Again, the answer is unclear.

Right now, there are 45 shale gas wells that have been drilled in Lawrence County on 10 different properties. But we don’t know what has been found, because the drillers aren’t talking.

They don’t want to tip off the competition.

Yet we must presume they are finding enough gas to make it worth their while to continue drilling. Plus, the process of laying lines that’s now in progress in the county tells us there’s something worth piping.

We recognize the processes involving shale gas drilling are controversial. Drilling, fracking and pipelines cause friction between businesses and property owners. If the latest reports mean drilling operations will continue to expand in the county, conflicts and disputes likely will become more common.

These will have to be dealt with. But at the same time, the economic potential for Lawrence County and much of the rest of the region as a result of shale gas may be far more dramatic than previously envisioned. We await more specific data.

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