In the past few years, the Marcellus Shale has rapidly become one of the most productive gas plays on the planet. But for many people in Southeastern Pennsylvania– the state’s most populated region– the boom has been out-of-sight and out-of-mind.
The region is beginning to experience the tradeoffs long familiar to those who live on top of the Shale—more job opportunities and more disruption.
Thousands of supporters of natural gas development marched to the steps of the state Capitol in Harrisburg today. Estimates of up to 3,000 people from all over the state hopped on buses and turned out for the day-long event, hosted by the state’s main gas industry trade group—the Marcellus Shale Coalition.
Bob Beck works for a company called New Pig Energy, which builds liners to help contain spills.
He lives outside State College and came to the Capitol to show his support for what he feels is a misunderstood business.
“I think there’s a lot of people who really don’t understand the industry,” he says. “They feel there’s a lot of contamination that goes on. I don’t think really realize everything the industry does to prevent that from happening.”
Others at the rally felt the same way.
A proposal to build a plant that would transform Pennsylvania’s cheap, abundant natural gas into more expensive motor fuel is generating controversy in Berks County. If built, the gas-to-liquids (GTL) plant would be one of the first facilities of its kind in the United States.
But industry analysts say there’s a reason these kinds of plants are so rare– the economics often don’t make a lot of sense.
“Homes all around”
Jen Byrne watches and worries as children run around the playground behind the day care she owns. If the plant is built in South Heidelberg Township, it would be—literally–in her backyard.
“I thought there’s no way they’d put that right there,” she says, looking out at the empty lot. “We have all these children here. There’s homes all around. My biggest concern is air and water pollution.”
The idea behind the GTL facility is to transform Pennsylvania’s natural gas into expensive liquid motor fuel–it would produce gasoline that can go right into a car.
The facility is projected to cost $800 million to $1 billion and produce about 500,000 gallons per day of gasoline and liquid petroleum. It’s planned for a 63-acre site about 10 miles west of Reading. Although the land is zoned for light industrial uses, it’s currently an empty field surrounded by residential neighborhoods.
Once word got out about the plans, a concerned citizens group quickly organized. They printed up bright red “Stop the gas refinery” yard signs, t-shirts, and flyers. Nearly 300 people attended a recent meeting hosted by the group.
A Canadian developer, EmberClear, is seeking to develop the GTL plant. Jim Palumbo is a project manager for the company. He says the plant will create about 150 permanent jobs.
“We have an abundance of natural gas in the state. It makes all the sense in the world to use it in some fashion,” he says. “We want to be good neighbors. We don’t want to do something that would be a detriment to the neighborhood.”
Katie Colaneri/StateImpact Pennsylvania permalink
The company store, once owned by Jones & Laughlin Steel, sits abandoned in Bobtown, Pa.