Townships Deal with the side effects of
Pennsylvania’s growing gas industry
BY JILL ERCOLINO / AssIsTANT EDITOR
Pennsylvania is full of gas.
Natural gas, that is. And while it remains to be seen
if our reserve, harbored deep within the expansive
Marcellus shale, is the motherlode that some sus-
pect, one thing is certain: Energy companies from
as far away as Texas and Oklahoma are clamoring
for a piece of the action. This gold rush of sorts
hasn’t been without controversy or problems, par-
ticularly in Pennsylvania’s townships, where roads
have been destroyed and landscapes altered. Ironi-
cally, though, while the shale’s discovery promises
to re-energize the nation’s natural gas supply, it’s
leaving township officials feeling powerless.
PhOTOs BY ThE Observer-repOrter, WAshINgTON, PA
8 PA TownshipNews JUNE 2008 JUNE 2008 PA TownshipNews 9
THE GAS BOOM
PHOTO BY BARR H. SHRIVER
omething is lurking market, have triggered a gold rush of sorts the importance of the Marcellus shale
beneath Pennsylvania’s in the commonwealth, where the shale has yet to be conﬁrmed, Dr. Terry
surface, and it’s a big formation appears to be the thickest and, Engelder, a consultant and professor of
deal. A really big deal. therefore, holds the most abundant sup- geosciences at Penn State University,
Of course, geologists ply. (See the map on Page 14.) believes the township supervisor is on
and others have known To be sure, Pennsylvania is full of to something.
about the Marcellus shale for many, many gas, and lots of it. Engelder’s 25-plus years of research
years, possibly as far back as the mid-1800s. “We’re sitting on the largest natural indicate that, as a whole, the shale con-
This layer of rock, which stretches gas deposit in the whole doggone world,” tains 168 trillion cubic feet of natural
from upstate New York to West Vir- crows Mel Cornell, a supervisor for South gas, and that’s a conservative estimate.
ginia and, in between, blankets parts of Huntingdon Township in Westmoreland In actuality, it could hold as much as
Ohio and two-thirds of Pennsylvania, County, a hotbed for natural gas drilling. 516 trillion cubic feet, he says. This is a
sits thousands of feet underground and And it’s a possibility that has nation- signiﬁcant ﬁnding when you consider
holds a largely untapped but extremely wide implications and local ramiﬁca- the nation’s current production num-
valuable natural gas reservoir. tions as township ofﬁcials from Greene bers, which stand at just 30 trillion
The trouble is, the energy industry County to Wayne County prepare, as cubic feet a year and are dropping.
has lacked the wherewithal to extract best they can, for the natural gas boom The shale’s seemingly vast sup-
the resource — until now. and its side effects. ply offers real promise for the nation’s
Recent drilling innovations, coupled natural gas reserves. On top of that, its
with the prospect of huge proﬁts for com- Intense interest development over the next decade or so
panies that can get in and get the gas to While Cornell’s declaration about could lower home heating bills across
10 PA TownshipNews JUNE 2008
“We’re sitting on the largest natural gas deposit
in the whole doggone world.”
the United States, reduce our depen- And, sufﬁce it to say, the competi-
dence on foreign energy, bring jobs and tion is ﬁerce.
businesses to areas of Pennsylvania “Once a week, we hear about a new
that need them the most, and pump company that’s in the area,” says Earle
millions, if not billions, into the state’s Robbins, director of the Penn State Co-
economy. operative Extension in Tioga County.
“The value of the Marcellus shale to Armed with lots of cash, these drill-
Pennsylvania is tremendous,” Engelder ers are buying up leases from property
says, “and if it pans out, it will be the owners, who stand to get rich quick
most important fuel discovery since the too if they’re lucky enough to be sitting
1800s.” on top of a productive gas reserve, and
Steve Rhoads, president of the building $5 million wells, access roads,
Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Association, and pipelines. New and developing technology
a Harrisburg-based nonproﬁt that rep- “The shale is a very hot commodity has made it possible for energy
resents independent oil and gas produc- right now,” Rhoads says, noting that companies to drill a vertical well
ers, is hopeful but a bit more cautious companies are taking a costly gamble down to a certain level, turn at a
about what the shale harbors. and hoping it pays off. right angle, and then continue drill-
“It’s a big area that’s ripe for develop- In fact, since 2005, the state Depart- ing horizontally. This technique al-
ment,” he says, “and there has been a ment of Environmental Protection, lows them to harvest gas from tight
lot of speculation about the shale’s po- which oversees and regulates oil and gas
vertical fractures in the Earth that
tential. However, you don’t know what industry activities, has issued a stagger-
were previously inaccessible.
you have until you put the hole in the ing 21,738 drilling permits, the majority
ground. There will be hot spots in the of which are for natural gas exploration. Once the drilling is complete,
shale, and there will be dead spots.” And if you take a look at DEP’s list workers pump ﬂuids, often water,
Still, there’s no denying that energy of well locations, you’ll ﬁnd the names into the well to pressurize the
companies from as far away as Texas of many townships. To date, the most rocks, causing them to crack. The
and Oklahoma are interested — very intense interest has been in Westmore- gas then migrates upward through
interested — in Pennsylvania. land County, where 612 gas well per- a complex piping system installed
It’s an attraction that has been after the drilling.
fueled by high natural gas prices, en- According to naturalgas.org,
couraging results from test wells, and Rigs and wells, similar to the one at
horizontal drilling technologies
improved recovery and extraction left, have been popping up all over
Pennsylvania, which many believe is have been heralded as one of the
technology that allows operators to drill
sitting on top of a bountiful and valu- greatest advances since the con-
horizontally through the shale. (For
able natural gas reserve. This reserve, ception of the rotary drilling bit.
more about horizontal drilling, see the
known as the Marcellus shale, is The technique now accounts for
sidebar on this page.) thousands of feet below the surface.
As a result, energy companies, 5 to 8 percent of active onshore
However, it wasn’t until recently that
including the Texas-based Range Re- energy companies had the techniques
wells in the United States, a num-
sources, which is by far the biggest play- and technology to access it. Now, ber that appears to be increasing
er here in Pennsylvania, want a piece of townships statewide are dealing with every year.
the action. the side effects of this new industry. The Web site reports that hori-
zontal drilling allows for more eco-
nomical drilling and also has less
“The value of the Marcellus shale impact on environmentally sensi-
tive areas. In addition, with this
to Pennsylvania is tremendous, and if technology, fewer wells are needed
it pans out, it will be the most important to produce the same amount of
hydrocarbons, the site says.
fuel discovery since the 1800s.”
JUNE 2008 PA TownshipNews 11
PHOTO COURTESY OF
THE GAS BOOM
mits were issued in 2007 alone, followed
by 577 in Armstrong County and 491 in
However, these days, the companies
are beginning to shift their focus from
western to northcentral and northeast-
ern Pennsylvania, where small, rural
communities like Clymer Township
in Tioga County, Herrick Township
in Bradford County, Lenox Township
in Susquehanna County, and Mifﬂin
Township in Lycoming County are see-
So how are townships dealing with
the inﬂux of energy companies, their
employees, and heavy equipment?
The honest answer: Some better
‘Three solid weeks of hell’
Among townships, damaged roads
are the most common complaint.
When building a well, which can take
up to a month, energy companies send
in hundreds of trucks, some of them
weighing more than 100 tons and many
overloaded with heavy equipment, “They’ve taken the
building materials, and gravel.
With this intense trafﬁc, it doesn’t
quality of life out of here.”
take long before local roads are ruined.
In South Huntingdon Township, West-
moreland County, which is anticipating
The growth of the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania has caught many townships
as many as 600 gas wells, supervisor Mel off guard. One of those was Mount Pleasant Township in Washington County, where
Cornell says that drillers have “blasted roads, including the one shown above, have been crushed under the weight of heav-
apart” 80 percent of the community’s ily loaded trucks. Noise from drilling has been another problem. However, there is
roads. very little townships can do to stop the companies and the damage since Pennsyl-
The story is much the same in Her- vania’s Oil and Gas Act gives much of the regulatory authority to the state Depart-
rick Township, where the ﬁrst well in ment of Environmental Protection.
Bradford County is being built. With-
out warning, company workers and it has never fulﬁlled, and along the townships when they passed the Oil
their heavy equipment started showing way altered the community’s pristine and Gas Act,” Grimm says. “I under-
up in late February just as the snow landscape and property values, built a stand our energy problems and the need
was beginning to melt and left one dirt massive hilltop lagoon that poses public to address them, but these companies
and gravel road in shambles, secretary- safety concerns, and disturbed residents can just come in and run roughshod
treasurer Diana Dorman says. with the constant pounding from its over us and we have no recourse.
“When they came, they came fast around-the-clock drilling. “We would just like to be able to
and furious. We endured three solid “They’ve taken the quality of life out exercise some control, but we can’t do
weeks of hell,” she says. “And all I kept of here,” Grimm says. anything,” he adds. “Our hands are
thinking was, how can they do this?” And what irks Grimm and many tied.”
But the damage goes beyond roads. other township ofﬁcials the most is that So who does have the power under
Larry Grimm, a supervisor for gas- thanks to Pennsylvania’s Oil and Gas the act to make these companies play
fertile Mount Pleasant Township in Act of 1984, municipalities are virtually by the rules? It all lies with the state
Washington County, reports one com- powerless to stop the damage. Department of Environmental Protec-
pany arrived there, making promises “The legislators really betrayed tion, which regulates, permits, and
12 PA TownshipNews JUNE 2008
“When they came, they came fast and furious.
We endured three solid weeks of hell.
And all I kept thinking was, how can they do this?”
oversees the oil and gas industry in a $750 conditional use permit for each weight limit has hampered gas compa-
Pennsylvania. It’s an ironclad authority well. However, when faced with a team nies from moving equipment, some of
that means one thing: Townships are of gas company lawyers, township of- which weighs as much as 104 tons, to
precluded from establishing their own ﬁcials decided to take a less restrictive the well sites, she says.
rules for oil and gas drilling. approach, zoning ofﬁcer Harold Ivery This has brought drilling and any
“Every well that gets drilled must says. Now, energy companies must post possible legal wrangles to a standstill.
comply with the Oil and Gas Act, and road bonds and apply for a $75 zoning Janyszeski says the board stands be-
townships are pre-empted from interfer- permit. hind the ordinance, which generated
ing with this DEP function,” says “These permits let us know where controversy but was necessary to protect
Matthew Wolford, an environmental they are,” Ivery says. the historic municipality, the environ-
law attorney in Erie. Nancy Janyszeski, a supervisor ment, and its limited groundwater sup-
The matter gets muddier when for Nockamixon Township in Bucks plies. Her concern is shared by others,
you throw in the fact that this issue is County, isn’t sure what the future holds who say that a common technique
largely about private property rights, for its oil and gas ordinance, which known as “fracking” requires millions of
too. If a landowner doesn’t mind a well prohibits drilling in certain areas, limits gallons of water, which is pumped into
or two or three on his property, very few the hours of operation, and addresses well bores to fracture shale and release
municipal ofﬁcials are going to argue lighting. A historic bridge with a 40-ton gas. Although companies do bring in
with that — or try to intervene.
Of course, these circumstances
haven’t stopped some townships from
attempting to exercise some control
over well operators. Afterall, they are PENNSYLVANIA GAS FACTS
charged with protecting the health,
safety, and welfare of their residents.
Their success, however, has been mini- No. of permits issued for
mal. gas and oil wells since 2005: 21,738
In 2005, Salem Township in West-
moreland County included rules to Top ﬁve counties for gas well permits (as of December 2007):
control drilling under its land develop- • Westmoreland County — 612 permits
ment and zoning ordinances. When the • Armstrong County — 577 permits
Commonwealth Court shot the regula- • Indiana County — 491 permits
tions down, the township appealed.
• Washington County — 420 permits
The case is now before the Pennsyl-
vania Supreme Court, which is also • Fayette County — 326 permits
considering the legality of an ordinance
passed by an Allegheny County bor- Top 10 active well operators (as of December 2007):
ough that limits the location of natural • Range Resources Appalachia, Hartville, Ohio — 5,190 wells
gas wells. • Atlas Energy Resources, Inc., Moon Township, Pa. — 3,302 wells
“If they turn us down, we’re back to
• Snyder Bros. Inc., Kittanning, Pa. — 2,902 wells
square one,” Salem Township supervi-
sor Ron Martz says. “We never tried to • PC Exploration Inc., Rocklin, Calif. — 2,780 wells
stop a single gas well, but we do want to • Dominion Exploration and Production Inc., Richmond, Va. — 2,720 wells
protect our township.” • Seneca Resources Corp., Williamsville, N.Y. — 2,271 wells
A few years ago, Chartiers Township • Kriebel Minerals Inc., Clarion, Pa. – 1,899 wells
in Washington County also considered • East Resources Inc., Warrendale, Pa. — 1,855 wells
passing an ordinance to manage the
• North Coast Energy Inc., Twinsburg, Ohio — 1,792 wells
side effects of gas drilling. The proposal
would have required operations to • Belden & Blake Corp., Houston, Texas — 1,791 wells
cease at dusk and companies to secure
JUNE 2008 PA TownshipNews 13
THE GAS BOOM
water tankers for the process, they also
have been known to tap into local wa-
“We’re worried they are going to use
up our water supply or, even worse, con-
taminate it,” the supervisor says. “Our
goal with all of this is to say, ‘We may
have drilling here, but not without dis-
cussion and not without putting some
value on Nockamixon Township.’
“We do respect the rights of property
owners,” she adds, “but all of us still live
together as a community. Our job is to
balance property rights with the welfare
of the rest of the community.”
Gas wells: A love-hate
OK, by now it’s clear: Township
supervisors have very few avenues for
managing gas companies. But try telling
that to an angry resident whose car has
The Marcellus shale, which covers roughly two-thirds of Pennsylvania, is an important
bottomed out in a rutted, muddy road discovery. And while it’s too early to tell if it will produce the massive amounts of natu-
or whose once picturesque view has ral gas that some forecast, the shale has lured many energy companies to the com-
been blotted out by a gas rig. monwealth. If the predictions prove to be accurate, though, this reserve could lower
“Residents will come to us and ask, home heating bills, reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign energy, bring jobs and
‘Why did you let them into our town- businesses to areas of Pennsylvania that need them the most, and pump millions, if
ship?’ ” Mount Pleasant Township’s not billions, into the state’s economy.
Larry Grimm says.
“We try to tell them that the law is saying, “Come on in.” Township resident Robert Deiseroth
the law and there is not much we can Stories are circulating that some recently told the New York Times. “This
do,” says Mary Ann Stevenson, Mount landowners in northeastern Pennsyl- has been a godsend for me.” A few
Pleasant’s secretary-treasurer, “but the vania are signing leases for as much as months ago, the newspaper reports, the
residents still don’t think the supervi- $2,500 an acre on top of the 12.5 per- farmer received a monthly royalty check
sors are protecting them.” cent royalty they’ll receive for gas that is for $16,000, and his elderly parents,
And that’s another side effect of natu- extracted from their property. who live nearby, were handed a $20,000
ral gas exploration in Pennsylvania: Lo- “Early on, the lease prices were check.
cal ofﬁcials often ﬁnd themselves in the between $5 and $50 per acre, but now And the truth is, for every township
middle of a contentious debate between they are going through the roof,” Steve that has a poor relationship with a gas
neighbors. If you think this is a typical Rhoads of the Pennsylvania Oil and company, there is one who has built
not-in-my-backyard issue, however, think Gas Association says. “That’s just the good ties with the drillers. That’s the
again. Gas companies are making many nature of the market.” case in Chartiers Township, Washing-
township residents an offer they can’t Without even buying a ticket, these ton County, where zoning ofﬁcer
refuse and, with dollar signs in their eyes, landowners have hit the lottery. Harold Ivery says the gas companies
they are quickly opening the door and “Now I can retire,” Mount Pleasant have been good neighbors.
“Our goal with all of this is to say, ‘We may have drilling here,
but not without discussion and not without
putting some value on Nockamixon Township.’”
14 PA TownshipNews JUNE 2008
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JUNE 2008 PA TownshipNews 15
THE GAS BOOM gas industry, rather than get angry.
Can’t we all just get along?
The ﬁrst wave of gas companies is
“If I have mud on the roads, they just beginning to arrive in Bradford
clean it up,” he says. “They have been County, and Marvin Meteer, a supervi-
very responsive.” sor for Wyalusing Township and one of
Rhoads acknowledges that conﬂicts PSATS’ newest Executive Board mem-
have emerged as companies scramble bers, doesn’t want the region riddled
to get a foothold in Pennsylvania, but with conﬂict and culture clashes.
he wants townships to understand that And as president of the Bradford
producers mean no harm and these County Association of Township Of-
short-term inconveniences will eventu- ﬁcials, he’s hoping to be the conduit
ally lead to long-term beneﬁts. for building trust and understanding
“There are going to be impacts, but between municipalities and the gas in-
these are temporary, and the companies dustry.
will take care of them,” he says. “Right “This business is entirely new to all
now, it’s in everyone’s best interest to of us. We’re naïve,” Meteer says, adding
facilitate the development of this indus- that townships need to understand the
try because of the potential wealth.” competitive nature of the gas indus-
Of course, that may be easier said try, which may lead companies to be
than done for some townships that al- secretive or in a hurry to protect their
ready feel violated and betrayed by the bottom line. By the same token, drill-
energy industry, but the reality is, these ers, many of whom hail from Texas and
gas wells are here to stay, especially if Oklahoma, must respect the differences
the Marcellus shale proves to be as pro- they ﬁnd in Pennsylvania, he says.
ductive as some suspect. “They aren’t used to our climate,
It’s a fact that hasn’t been lost on and when they came to Herrick Town-
some township ofﬁcials, who believe it’s ship [and damaged a road], they didn’t
in their community’s best interest to get understand the area, the winter, or
along with and get educated about the the frost,” Meteer says. “The company
Web sites worth your time
www.dep.state.pa.us/enotice — Log onto this site to sign up with the
state Department of Environmental Protection’s “eNotice” system, which will
alert you when a gas company applies for a permit in your township.
www.dep.state.pa.us (click on “Energy Topics,” then “Oil and Gas Wells”)
— Check out this site, operated by DEP’s Bureau of Oil and Gas Management,
for important phone numbers, laws and regulations, and fact sheets.
www.pagaslease.com — Take some time to review this informative site,
sponsored by the Natural Gas Lease Forum for Landowners. Forum founder
Ron Stamets, who lives in Buckingham Township, Wayne County, has one
goal: to educate landowners about gas company leases. Township ofﬁcials
will also beneﬁt from this information.
www.naturalgaslease.pbwiki.com — Don’t miss this site, sponsored by
Penn State’s Natural Gas Exploration and Leasing Team, which has been at
the forefront of disseminating information about gas company leases and
other issues related to drilling. There, you will ﬁnd articles, forums, and infor-
mation about upcoming lease workshops, a popular offering these days.
Go to Google, too — In addition to logging onto these Web sites, do a
quick search on Google. Try such phrases as “natural gas in Pennsylvania,”
“Oil and Gas Act,” and “Marcellus shale,” which will yield lots of information
about what is happening in Pennsylvania.
16 PA TownshipNews JUNE 2008
JUNE 2008 PA TownshipNews 17
THE GAS BOOM
admits it messed up. It’s going to be a
learning process for both sides.”
Last month, this mutual education
got off to a solid start when Bradford
County hosted a meeting between gas
companies and local government of-
ﬁcials from ﬁve neighboring counties.
Ofﬁcials from PSATS attended, as did
Lance Simmens, who is Gov. Ed Rendell’s
special assistant for intergovernmental
affairs. Meteer also is proposing that the
county’s townships develop a plan that
outlines their expectations for drillers,
including notiﬁcation guidelines.
“My feeling is that these companies
really want to work with people,” he
says, “and their arrival here could be
the economic shot in the arm that our
counties need. In the long run, it’s go-
ing to be a good thing, but there are
going to be big bumps along the way.
“That’s why we need to guide the
process and work with them, not
This approach makes a lot of sense,
but it’s not the only step your town-
ship can take to ensure tranquility and
minimize headaches if a gas company
knocks on your door.
Since damaged roads are a com-
mon problem when drillers move into
a township, a growing number of mu-
nicipalities, including Herrick Town-
ship in Bradford County, are passing
ordinances that require these com-
panies and others to post road bonds.
Local ofﬁcials realize that they may not
recoup enough money to cover the re-
pairs; however, bonding ordinances do
give them some legal teeth if a company
refuses to ﬁx the damage.
Townships may also sign up with
DEP’s “eNotice” system at www.dep.
state.pa.us/enotice, which will alert them
about oil and gas permit activity in their
community, says Ron Gilius, director of
the Bureau of Oil and Gas Management.
“If someone ﬁles a permit request for
a municipality, DEP will enter it in the
system and anyone on eNotice will get
an e-mail about it,” he says.
More than anything else, though,
township ofﬁcials who have experience
with gas companies advise others to
18 PA TownshipNews JUNE 2008
“My feeling is that these companies really want
to work with people, and their arrival here could be
the economic shot in the arm that our counties need.
educate themselves and their residents pass it on to their residents, who may Team. The team’s site features a royalty
about drilling, leases, and the Marcellus soon be approached by a gas company calculator, community forums, and in-
shale. Namely, they recommend that and asked to sign a lease. formation about upcoming lease work-
you call township ofﬁcials who have For instance, Nockamixon Town- shops, a popular offering these days.
been through this. Also, a quick Google ship in Bucks County held an infor- In the end, a well-informed public
search with a few key phrases will yield mational meeting on the gas industry may be your township’s best line of de-
a lot of information, as will a visit to and leases, which featured a panel of fense in dealing with the gas industry.
www.dep.state.pa.us (click on “Energy experts. Useful information about gas “If we could do things over, we
Topics,” then “Oil and Gas Wells”), leases can also be found at www.pa- would have held more public meetings
which will provide phone numbers, laws gaslease.com, which is operated by the and let people know what comes with
and regulations, and fact sheets. Natural Gas Lease Forum for Landown- these things,” Larry Grimm of Mount
Very often, township ofﬁcials will ers, and www.naturalgaslease.pbwiki. Pleasant Township says, “because the
also take what they’ve learned about com, which is sponsored by Penn State’s public … they’re the ones who have the
the beneﬁts and risks of gas drilling and Natural Gas Exploration and Leasing control.” ✦
SIGNING ON THE DOTTED LINE
Townships should encourage residents to do their research
before agreeing to a natural gas lease
BY RON STAMETS / FOUNDER, NATURAL GAS LEASE FORUM FOR LANDOWNERS
So, a landman has plopped a bonus they accepted before fully in- a landowners group so they are in
natural gas lease agreement down vestigating the deal was really worth a stronger position to negotiate a
on the table and is offering one $2,000 an acre. Many have cashed lease. It also ensures they won’t
of your residents more money per checks for $2,500 only to discover have to bear the entire ﬁnancial
acre than he paid for the property. that if they had done their due dili- burden of hiring a qualiﬁed attor-
What should the resident do? Here gence, that check could have been ney, who may charge up to $350
are some tips that you, as a town- worth $200,000. an hour. One group, which has
ship ofﬁcial, can share with your • Remind them that the leases more than 500 members, is nego-
constituents who ﬁnd themselves tip the scales in favor of the drilling tiating with not one, but two, of the
in this situation: company. Therefore, it is their respon- most highly regarded gas attorneys
• Remind them that whatever sibility to understand the beneﬁts the in the country, and it’s costing
they sign is a LEGAL CONTRACT company is getting and the rights they participants just $25 per property
and they will be bound by its terms. are signing away. No one wants to see owner.
• Remind them to get every a drill rig pull up and punch a hole in
promise the landman makes in his driveway or front yard. About the author: Ron Stamets,
writing. • Remind them that hiring an at- a Web site developer by day who
• Remind them that they are torney who doesn’t specialize in these lives in Buckingham Township,
negotiating what could be a million- leases will be of little beneﬁt. Land- Wayne County, is founder of the
dollar deal. They are not buying a owners need someone who has work- Natural Gas Lease Forum for
refrigerator and should treat this ing knowledge of federal and state gas Landowners. He also operates
situation as such. If they don’t take it laws to explain the lease and its ramiﬁ- www.pagaslease.com to educate
seriously, they will discover, as many cations and negotiate on their behalf. landowners and others about gas
already have, that the $25 per acre • Encourage them to join or form drilling and leases.
JUNE 2008 PA TownshipNews 19