Shale Revolution Has Paid Huge Benefits to Buckeye and Keystone States

Tom Shepstone
Shepstone Management Company, Inc.

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The shale revolution irrevocably changed the economies of Ohio and Pennsylvania, but many don’t realize the environmental benefits also paid forward.

Sometimes you need to step back from the day to day to see the big changes and trends that have taken place over a decade or more. That is especially true in the gas of the shale revolution, which has had dramatic environmental and economic benefits for the Buckeye and Keystone States. So, let’s pull back to look at the forest of accomplishments from this ongoing Marcellus and Utica shale revolution

Let’s start with the environmental benefits, which are too often overlooked. My own view since the moment I became involved in the world of shale, in 2007 or so, is that gas drilling is one of the very few economic things we can done with land and still preserve it as open space. That’s because a tiny well pad was all that was required to harvest valuable natural gas from 160 acres or so at the time and pay the taxes to keep the property in farming, forestland or just open space. That number has grown to at least 1,280 acres and much more in some cases as laterals have extended to 1-2 miles in length and well pads have stayed at 10 acres or under. This means less than 1% land disturbance or, to put it in positive terms, 99% land preservation.

I recall at the time trying to explain this to someone from the National Park Service, whose response was on the order of that proverbial deer in the headlights. The idea productive use of land was necessary to own it and maintain it, was a completely foreign concept to him. When I took it further to point out nothing else came close to gas drilling in producing so much economic return with so little disturbance and, therefore, so much impact in preserving land in open space, the wide eyes and blank stare were diverted skyward as if to ask what in the world is this wild man talking about. We knew each other well and he respected my opinion on other matters, but this was too much for him.

Shale revolution

Farmland saved by a gas well pad

That’s why continual reminders of the shale revolution’s environmental benefits are necessary, particularly as they relate to one another. Consider the following facts pertaining to Ohio and Pennsylvania:

  • The Consumer Energy Alliance notes Ohio has greatly increased energy production via the shale revolution. This revolution has also and simultaneously served to achieve dramatic decreases in emissions through substitution of clean gas for coal and oil. These declines have been 94% in the case of sulfur dioxide, 74% in carbon monoxide, 72% in nitrogen oxide, 66% in volatile organic compounds and 16% in carbon dioxide emissions with electric power CO2 emissions dropping by nearly 40% from 2005 to 2017. It doesn’t get better environmentally.
  • Pennsylvania’s natural gas impact tax fees contribute in another way, by financing the Unconventional Gas Well Fund, which supports many conservation projects. The impact tax fees also provide money for the Marcellus Legacy Fund, which provides financial support for environmental, water and sewer projects, rehabilitation of greenways and other environmental projects throughout the state.
  • As utility companies have shifted fuels to natural gas, the EIA has found carbon emissions have dropped by 28% nationwide between 2005 and 2017 and the EPA and International Energy Agency say greenhouse gas emissions are now at the lowest level since 1992. In fact, there has been a 10% decrease in net greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 to 2018. The EPA acknowledges much of this success is “due to an increasing shift to use of less CO2-intensive natural gas for generating electricity.”
  • There is also whole new level of emissions reductions on the horizon with more than 60 existing and planned carbon capture and sequestration facilities worldwide that will draw carbon emissions out of the atmosphere or prevent their release so as to use the CO2 productively to fracture new shale wells or other purposes. The environmental benefits of the shale revolution have only just begun.

Combine these with the open space benefits and you have tremendous change for the good when it comes to the environment. And, then there are the economic benefits, which we’ll discuss tomorrow!

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