CRANBERRY TWP — While Pennsylvania’s Marcellus and Utica shale gas reserves produce enough natural gas to supply every house in the U.S., moving that gas from the well pad to market is a continuing need.
That was one of the subjects covered at the Keystone Energy Forum’s Southwestern Pa. Natural Gas Utilization and Infrastructure Development forum held Thursday morning at the Regional Learning Alliance.
The panel of five experts from various companies with connections to shale gas gave short presentations about the industry from their respective points of view, and a question-and-answer period followed.
Kyle Knapp, general manager of Du-Co Ceramics in Saxonburg, said 98 percent of the custom ceramic insulators and other products made at the plant are sintered in natural gas furnaces.
“We could do everything else right, but if we can’t fire our product, economically it’s not going to work,” Knapp said.
He said gas prices were high until 2007, when shale gas began impacting the region. That reduction in cost, Knapp said, has offset the sharp increase in insurance experienced over the past several years.
Jeremy Zeman, manager of commercial development for Williams Companies, a firm that gathers, processes and transports natural gas, said the company employs 1,000 people in southwestern Pennsylvania.
He said 3,300 miles of shale gas pipeline exists in the state, which is a significant increase since 2010. But more is needed.
“A major amount of supply is coming out of this region,” Zeman said.
He said all of Pennsylvania would benefit from additional infrastructure that moves shale gas from the well to the processing plant and then to the market. Today, 25 to 30 percent of Marcellus shale wells have no pipeline connected to them, Zeman said.
Jeffrey Nehr of Peoples Gas said the company’s 700,000 customers receive their gas thanks to 14,000 miles of pipeline.
He said Peoples has three natural gas projects ongoing at this time. One is to connect the 300,000 people in 18 counties who do not have access to natural gas.
He said those residents use propane, oil, electricity, coal or wood to heat their homes.
Peoples officials and the state Public Utility Commission devised a structure to build pipelines and help those customers convert to natural gas.
Nehr said the residents stand to save $1,000 to $2,000 per year by using natural gas, and converting will increase their property values.
Nehr also discussed Peoples’ natural gas vehicle program. He said Peoples serves 16 natural gas fueling stations and operates 10 stations for its own flee.
Using natural gas in vehicles, Nehr said, is economical and environmentally friendly. Nehr said the state Department of Transportation and public transportation entities are working together to build natural gas refueling stations.
Peoples is also using natural gas to produce electricity. Nehr said traditional power plants are only 35 percent efficient because most of the heat produced goes up the smoke stacks and into the atmosphere.
Nehr said such a plant’s production of polluting fly ash, its use of massive volumes of water and greenhouse gas emissions could be greatly reduced by the use of fuel cells that run on natural gas.
He said many universities in the region use fuel cells. Nehr said hospitals, office buildings and data centers could eliminate power outages by using fuel cells.
“Electricity in the area is not set up to support big data centers,” Nehr said.
Bob Wilds, director of pipeline operations at the International Union of Operating Engineers, said pipelines for shale gas have been a boon to the heavy equipment operators and mechanics who are members of the union.
Wilds said 7,000 of the union’s 40,000 members live in southwestern Pennsylvania.
“They live right here in local neighborhoods where (gas) projects are being constructed,” Wilds said.
He said the IUOE provides extensive training specific to the shale gas pipeline industry, and its operators must pass tests and become certified before working on a shale gas pipeline job.
“We provide a safe, environmentally friendly, efficient work force,” Wilds said.
He said 90 percent of the members of IUOE Local 66, which covers all of Western Pennsylvania and three counties in eastern Ohio, were employed in 2016. Wilds said pipeline construction also employs Teamsters, Laborers International and Pipefitters union members.
Wilds said other benefits of using union workers include revenue for equipment dealers, hotels, restaurants and car dealers.
“You cannot buy a pickup truck in Waynesburg,” Wilds said. “The dealers do not have them.”
The forum was attended by Butler County Commissioner Kim Geyer and State Sen. Scott Hutchinson, R-21st.
Geyer said she found the event informative.
“I think it’s very telling that despite the markets being down, it’s an opportune time for the energy companies to focus their attention on infrastructure and getting the gas to market,” she said. “The technology keeps refining and we keep learning more and more about this energy industry, and that’s all good.”
Hutchinson also appreciated the information given by the panelists.
“There was a wealth of information regarding opportunities for individuals as well as the local economy and this growing industry,” Hutchinson said.
The Keystone Energy Forum was sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and the Regional Learning Alliance Learning and Conference Center.