The boom has brought new jobs and new wealth to the state. But like every industry, it responds to supply and demand.
Over the past five years, the ebbs and flows of the industry have meant a changing economic reality for different parts of the state.
Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania
Joyce and Steve Libal run an orchard out of their 63-acre home in Apolacon Township, Susquehanna County.
It all started with beans.
Joyce and Steve Libal run a small orchard on their 63-acres in Little Meadows, Susquehanna County where they sell fruit and organic vegetables.
One day in early September, a friend came by to purchase ten pounds of green bush beans.
“In this area, with all the drilling going on, the conversations usually end up talking about the gas industry,” Steve Libal says. “And he just brought up that he had seen, he’s a borough councilman and they received a packet of information about a well pad behind our house.”
A map the gas company, Talisman Energy, sent to the municipality shows a plan for a well pad just beyond the thick row of trees at the back of their property. A dotted line shows a well bore moving 2,000 feet across their land. (You can see the map below.)
“I just thought this has to be some sort of horrible mistake,” Joyce said. “Someone made a mistake and we have to enlighten them so they can fix it.”
The couple contacted the Department of Environmental Protection. A geologist for the DEP who was reviewing the well permit said he would let Talisman Energy know about the situation.
Just hours after getting the e-mail from the DEP, they got a call from a landman asking them what it would take for them to sign a lease with Talisman.
Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania
A customer fills up at a public CNG station in Towanda. There are only about 22 public stations like this one in Pennsylvania.
The most recent Marcellus shale production numbers were record-breaking. If Pennsylvania keeps up this pace, it will be producing enough gas to supply more than 10 percent of what the entire country uses in a year.
And with this glut, there are efforts to find new markets for the gas— especially in transportation.
Compressed natural gas (CNG) can be used as an alternative fuel to power cars and trucks, but it isn’t catching on everywhere.
“Way too much supply”
In Pennsylvania, we have more natural gas than we know what to do with. Alan Walker, who heads the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development, puts it this way:
“It’s an industry that responds to supply and demand. Right now we have way too much supply,” he says. “It’ll balance out, because people aren’t going to drill wells if they can’t make money at it. There was this rush—like the gold rush—and we are producing a lot more than we can absorb.”
Unlike the rush to get the gas out of the ground, there hasn’t been a rush to convert vehicles to natural gas.
Matthew Staver /Landov
A train pulling a row of tank cars moves along the tracks near a Hess transfer facility near Tioga, North Dakota, U.S., on Thursday, July 11, 2013. There is a continued boom situation in the area due to the ability to extract oil from the Bakken Formation.
Philadelphia is at the center of a new industrial boom: trains are snaking through the city, bringing light, sweet crude oil from North Dakota to the city’s revived refineries. They’re the same type of train that derailed and exploded in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic in July, leaving 47 people dead.
StateImpact has reported that the deadly accident hasn’t put the brakes on oil trains coming into Philadelphia. In fact, there are more coming than ever.
So, what exactly is this stuff and what are some of the risks involved?
StateImpact talked to oil spill expert Nancy Kinner, Director of the Coastal Response Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, who put this new boom in perspective.
Courtesy of Robert King
Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that Philadelphia Energy Solutions would be accepting trains carrying 70,000 gallons of crude oil each. The correct volume is 70,000 barrels.
Robert King remembers the very first time he saw an oil train.
“It was April 14, 2013.”
King, a 17-year-old Philadelphian, is a “railfan,” the name for members of a worldwide community of passionate, or some might say obsessive, train buffs.
On that day, King and railfans from the Midwest to the East Coast were busily tracking the inaugural run of a brand new train: the CSX K040, an oil train more than one-mile long hauling raw crude from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota bound for South Philadelphia.
With his camera bag slung over his shoulder, King pedaled his blue-and-white mountain bike to Schuylkill River Park in Center City and up the ramp to a foot bridge overlooking the CSX tracks. Then he settled in to wait. As he stood there, he recalls, “There’s some worry on my mind.”
King fretted that another train slated to use the tracks at the same time might ruin his dream photo. But he got lucky that day, snapping the photo of Philly’s first oil train that you can see on this page.
Nowadays, railfans like King have frequent chances to catch this view.
That’s because Philadelphia is at the center of a new industrial boom. Oil trains are becoming a common sight on tracks between North Dakota and Philadelphia. To get here, they travel through some densely populated areas – Chicago, Albany and New Jersey – which is raising some safety concerns.