In an age of ever-increasing energy costs, natural gas development might be one way to look for relief.
Craig Mayer, vice president with PGE and Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association director, argued just that point in a presentation to the Northern Allegheny Conservation Association at its annual meeting Thursday night at the Jefferson-Defrees Family Center.
"It's a big deal. The size, scale and significance of thisa rock that sort of powers the world," Mayer told the small gathering, referring to the development of the Marcellus Shale. "We are becoming more and more aware of it as it grows in significance and in what people are finding and in what it can do for the future of the country."
Mayer explained natural gas development has the ability to provide "a cleaner and cheaper source of energy. We live in an industrial age and we have to" power it.
He pointed out that one of the intended benefits is the wealth of jobs that can come with the industry. He cited pay in the field as "very significant" and noted that one trained in the field "can transfer anywhere in the country when you learn the skills. It just runs completely across society."
The most frequently cited concern with natural gas development is hydro-fracturing the process used to extract the gas from the formation by the injection of a chemically-laced water. "A lot of folks imaging there will be this tremendous disruption to the landscape," Mayer said. "The issue with hydro-fracturing is like any industrial issue. You're going to have brine. We're going to have to dispose of it. Injection wells is one way to do it."
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an injection well "is a device that places fluid deep underground into porous rock formations, such as sandstone or limestone, or into or below that shallow soil layer. These fluids may be water, wastewater, brine (salt water), or water mixed with chemicals."
Noting that nothing from the injection wells goes back into the water tables, Mayer said over 170,000 injection wells exist across the country. "They've been operating for decades in the country," he added.
He said that 70 percent of the streams within the original 720,000-acre Allegheny National Forest boundary area "is rated exceptions value and high quality. So I continue to ask myself, where is the terrible result from the thousands and thousands of wells. My point isn't accidents don't happen, because they do. There are possibilities and potentials about what might be out there to us."
Looking to the future, Mayer talked about the possibility of natural gas vehicles. He said that of the 250 million vehicles on the roads, between 30 and 40 percent of fuel usage is truck traffic. To that truck traffic is "where the natural gas engines.that's where it's going to go," Mayer said, indicating that the shift will "have a significant impact on our need to be purchasing oil from broad basically. The passenger market will come later."
He said that a consumer is "going to pay $1.80, $1.90 maybe two bucks for that same" gallon compared to gasoline. "That's a big deal in terms of our ability to compete on the world stage. It's important."