The mighty Marcellus continues to boom. Here’s a look at four things you may not know about the shale play.
King Pin. Behemoth. Big Daddy. All those names are fitting colloquial terms for the Marcellus Shale formation.
We might all realize it is big — around 95,000 square miles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). It stretches across New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Maryland, and ranges in depth from 4,000 to 8,000 feet. According to the USGS, the 400-million-year-old rock of the Marcellus Shale play is estimated to contain more than 410 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
It’s one of the most active regions in the oil and gas industry these days. Here are few reasons you should consider expanding your business to service the massive Marcellus.
1. Its magnitude is mighty
Call it whatever you want; the emergence of the Marcellus Shale formation in the northeastern U.S. is a “game-changer for the US energy industry,” according to a recent report by investment research giant Morningstar.
“We think the U.S. is likely to become a major exporter of natural gas over the next few years, which couldn’t have been possible before the rise of shale gas and the Marcellus shale,” said Mark Hanson, Morningstar’s strategist for energy equity research, in the online report.
Morningstar analysts predict that the Marcellus shale will be the biggest driver of U.S. gas production over the next few years, noting that natural gas production nationwide will increase by approximately 2 percent every year through 2015, by which time the Marcellus Shale play will account for close to one-fourth of domestic volumes.
Larry Wickstrom, geologist with Wickstrom Geoscience in Worthington, Ohio, believes 30 to 40 percent of nation’s natural gas needs could be produced by the Marcellus shale, if natural gas prices recover sufficiently. The area currently produces about 20 percent.
“It’s great for the nation that we have all this natural gas, but the volume has also driven the price down,” Wickstrom says. “It’ll come back.”
Management consulting firm ICF International predicts that for 2015, gas prices will trend lower as production continues to grow and demand stays a step behind.
2. Show me the money … and the steel
Aside from the money obviously being invested in leasing, licensing and drilling by energy companies, the financial boon to ancillary businesses and the communities is massive as well. According to Wickstrom, companies have invested over $2.75 billion in Ohio as a result of the Marcellus/Utica plays — and that’s only referring to ancillary projects.
Of those projects, most notable are steel mills. Northeast Ohio into the Pittsburgh area was “steel valley” for many decades, but according to Wickstrom, since the 1970s, that business has all been leaving and mostly going off-shore. “So now this is great news to that industry,” he says.
Steel companies are rebooting and expanding to accommodate the needs of the drilling and processing industries. “Many areas of eastern Ohio, western and northeastern Pennsylvania and the panhandle of West Virginia are seeing positive economic impacts,” Wickstrom says. “We have this wonderful rejuvenation.”
And with a long-dying coal industry in the area, the natural gas impact has spread to the communities. “The biggest news is right where the wet window of the Marcellus play is happening (the Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia tri-state area),” Wickstrom says. “The coal and steel industries used to dominate this area. This area was just so depressed and so in need of capital and jobs; it’s great to see it happening where it’s needed.”
Many of what he calls “shale-ionaires” have been created and development is rampant. “It’s just gone nuts,” he says. “Housing prices are going through the roof in some communities.”
(Map by Marty Shumway, Worthington, Ohio)
Wickstrom adds, “In the tri-state area, somewhere north of $10 billion is being spent by the mid-stream sector of the industry right now in developing the gathering systems and processing plants and pipelines to take the natural gas liquids out of this area that is the biggest economic driver.”
3. Shifting focus
The Marcellus, big as it is, is capable of producing both wet gas and natural gas.
“More people have shifted their activity to the tri-state area,” says Wickstrom, a region richer in wet gas, rather than natural gas. “It’s shifted the infrastructure to just building pipelines to building pipelines but also gas processing and liquids fractionation plants.”
Dry gas is more prevalent in eastern Pennsylvania, and when the play started, Wickstrom says, gas prices were higher and then dropped. Drilling and infrastructure has slowed down up there, with much of the focus shifting to the tri-state region because the wet gas components (propane, butane, iso-butane, ethane and natural gasoline) add value to the production above that of just natural gas.
4. It’s a proactive region
The Marcellus region is one of the more proactive natural gas/oil regions, in terms of reaching out to citizens. The Marcellus Shale Coalition has launched a grassroots advocacy program, United Shale Advocates, to reach out to Pennsylvania residents who support shale development but aren’t in the natural gas industry.
Part of the effort includes a website that urges pro-shale development advocacy. The group gives an online voice and platform to those who support the industry — most likely in response to plenty of advocacy groups and protestors who don’t.
The largest natural gas industry group in the region hosted a rally in Harrisburg, Pa., in early May to let legislators and the public know that a diverse group of people support the natural gas boom that began about six years ago. More than 3,000 showed up. That number alone should be reason enough to check out the might Marcellus.