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Area sees some benefits from shale

April 30, 2012
By Melissa Toothman - Staff Writer , The Inter-Mountain

Although the drilling of Marcellus Shale has been subsiding in Barbour, Lewis, Upshur, Taylor, and Preston counties, the economic benefits still have brought jobs to the area.

The Marcellus Shale drilling project has the potential to reduce dependency on foreign fuel imports and improve economic conditions caused by a high demand for natural gas.

"It's been great for Lewis County, we're tied for fifth in the state for lowest unemployment rate," said Doug Parsons, executive director of Lewis County Development Authority.

According to February figures, Lewis County tied with Kanawha County for fifth lowest unemployment rate and in January, Lewis County ranked third lowest.

"So we've been blessed; we have 32 companies in Lewis County and they employ about 1,200 people," Parsons said.

Upshur County, however, has not seen a change in unemployment rates.

"We were flat; we saw no change upward or down," said Steve Foster, director of Upshur County Development Authority. "There's literally probably hundreds of jobs here, but they're in service companies that have people all over West Virginia and Ohio."

Foster said about 35 oil and gas service companies are located in Upshur County.

The Marcellus Shale formation stretches from uptown New York throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland and Kentucky. The shale is very abundant in West Virginia.

However, drilling in the Marcellus Shale has subsided and companies have began focusing their attention on the Utica Shale, located below the Marcellus Shale.

"I know a lot of the drilling has subsided because of the price of gas and a lot of the activity is going to the Utica Shale," Parson said. "The oil and other byproducts in the gas ... (are) more valuable than the gas itself."

Foster said the Utica Shale is more valuable because it's wet, unlike the Marcellus Shale, which is mostly composed of dry gas.

"Most of the drilling activity is taking place over in Marshall, Wetzel and Ohio counties in West Virginia, plus the ones across the river in Ohio and ones in Pennsylvania. The reason for that is they're drilling in the Utica Shale below the Marcellus Shale," Foster said. "You can get two things by drilling (there)."

The liquids contained in Utica Shale include ethane, propane and butane, among others. Foster said the ethane can be converted to etholine, which is a building block for many chemicals.

The drilling method used for Marcellus Shale is called hydraulic fracturing, otherwise referred to as fracking. Companies involved in the drilling claim to be using economic and environmentally friendly procedures.

"There is not one verified case of water pollution from any Marcellus drilling or any hydraulic fracturing of this type in the country, so I don't think there really are any environmental risks if it's done properly," Parsons said.

According to Chesapeake Energy, one of the companies involved with the drilling, Marcellus Shale can be found at depths ranging from 4,000 to 8,500 feet. Chesapeake Energy's natural gas wells in the Marcellus Shale average at more than 5,300 feet, a depth that spans more than four times the height of the Empire State Building.



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