WELLSVILLE - The shale gas industry is good news for the economic revitalization of Columbiana County and for the American economy at large, according to Keith A. Fuller, an executive from Chesapeake Energy, who spoke Thursday afternoon at a luncheon hosted by the Wellsville Area Chamber of Commerce.
The gas and oil industry as a whole has invested nearly $7 billion in the area, Fuller said, which has been transferred to numerous local businesses, to landowners who have leased their property for exploration, and as investments in infrastructure to meet industry needs. He also expounded upon the job-creating benefits of the industry, saying that 410 people across 150 professions are required to bring a single gas well online, a total that doesn't include workers in local stores, restaurants and gas stations that receive more business along the way.
Fuller recounted the news stories from nearly two months ago that reported that the amount of oil produced in America surpassed the amount of oil imported from other countries for the first time since 1949. Five years ago, he said, the thought was of the U.S. running out of natural gas. The ports that were being constructed to accept imported gas from foreign sources are now being converted to ship gas for export overseas.
Keith A. Fuller, director of government affairs and corporate development for Chesapeake Energy, spoke at the Wellsville Area Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon meeting Thursday afternoon. (Photo by Richard Sberna)
Fuller attempted to correct what he believes are misconceptions about the gas development industry and Chesapeake's role in it. Although the company is responsible for 10 percent of the natural gas produced in the United States, he feels that Chesapeake's presence in the gas field is overestimated by many.
As an exploration and development company, Chesapeake seeks natural gas where it may be located in the region's shale formations and extracts it from the earth. "Our whole goal is to find the resource, to bring that resource up to the surface, and then sell it to market," Fuller said. From there, Chesapeake is not responsible for things such as the price of natural gas supplied by a local utility to homes and businesses.
Neither do companies like Chesapeake play a part in midstream activities, such as pipeline transport of gas, and downstream processing of the raw gas, as will take place in the Utica East Ohio cryogenic processing plant currently being constructed in Kensington. Fuller explained that Chesapeake is involved solely in an upstream role of extraction. "We are dealing with pulling out of the reservoir the fossil fuels that we use - mostly natural gas - up to the surface, and that's it," he said.
Fuller said the Utica shale found locally is exciting because it produces both the "dry" natural gas that most people associate with the resource, and the "wet" gas that is used to produce ethane, butane and propane. Highly valuable and marketable, these are utilized in the making of petrochemicals, plastics and fertilizer.
In addition to its industrial flexibility, Fuller says that the presence of both varieties of gas should make the area more immune to the boom-and-bust cycles that have plagued other areas of gas development. This is because if one sector of market, such as dry gas, experiences a sharp drop in demand, it should leave the demand for wet gas unaffected. Oil is also being located farther west in the state, giving the Utica region a triple-threat benefit.
Assuming that the majority of local wells drilled are productive, Fuller estimates that there will be upwards of 20 years to the industry's presence here. "This isn't going away, this is going to be here," he said.