Could Nottinghamshire be transformed by shale gas?

In the latest in our special features about fracking, we look at how parts of Pennsylvania in the US have benefited from shale gas extraction.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 10th October 2016, 8:45 am
Updated Tuesday, 25th October 2016, 7:56 pm
State senator Camera Bartolotta. Picture: Mark Simpson
State senator Camera Bartolotta. Picture: Mark Simpson

Last week, plans to frack in North Nottinghamshire by IGas were put on hold after a last-minute legal challenge to drill two wells searching for gas in Misson forced planners to postpone its decision.

But as reported earlier this month in the start of our special Stateside features, energy giant INEOS hopes to submit five planning applications for vertical core drilling in the East Midlands by the end of this year.

It needs permission to drill vertical core wells as a first step in a process that could lead to horizontal fracking of those wells.

Canonsburg in south west Pennsylvania

In America, fracking has been a key player in US energy for several years.

Some 20 or so miles south west of Pittsburgh, is the township of Canonsburg in Washington County, Pennsylvania.

Like North Nottinghamshire, it is steeped in industrial heritage.

The town is in a rich coal district, and most of the town’s workforce once worked in local steel mills or mines.

Paul Kwiatek, of Imperial, Pittsburgh. Picture: Martin Phillips

But like here, when the mining, textiles and hosiery industries went into decline, south west Pennsylvania was left devastated after the steel and coal industries disappeared.

No jobs, very little economic growth and crime spiralling out of control.

But fast forward a decade or so and things appear to be very different.

The area is booming. On the 30-minute coach trip from Pittsburgh International Airport to Canonsburg it was clear that the townships which line the route were enjoying prosperity.

Shale well pad. Picture: Mark Simpson

Leafy communities boasting substantial-sized properties and immaculate golf courses appear to be the norm.

The transformation has been dramatic.

Local politicians point to shale gas as the catalyst in breathing new life into the area.

Geologically, the area of the state sits on the Marcellus basin - a shale rock formation which covers 104,000 square miles and stretches across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, south east Ohio and parts of upstate New York.

Shale well fracking site in Ohio, US. Photo: Mark Simpson

Some locals say the last 10 years have seen unprecedented riches come the way of parts of Pennsylvania.

Here in Britain, chemical giant INEOS - which wants to frack in Notts - plans to give six per cent of its shale gas revenues to homeowners, landowners and communities close to its wells. In America, shale gas extraction has transformed some communities where landowners own the mineral rights under their property.

Pennsylvania is now the second largest producer of natural gas in the country - producing 37 per cent of all shale gas in the country and has now started exporting.

The area south of Pittsburgh now boasts gleaming office blocks, shiny new restaurants and a booming local economy.

“We have seen over £3.5bn dollars of new revenue come into the commonwealth and into our local communities,” says Patrick Henderson, of the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

“We have adopted an impact fee that drives these dollars back to those communities that are seeing the impact and have welcomed the activity.

Canonsburg in south west Pennsylvania

“It shows that they have some stake in the game. We have driven over £100m dollars right here to south western Pennsylvania. It’s a tremendous, tremendous investment.”

Fracking does not come without controversy and concern, but some locals in Pittsburgh say they are all for it.

In the township of Imperial, just a few miles from the city, retired blast furnace construction worker Paul Kwiatek says Britain could benefit from fracking.

He said: “In the last ten years we’ve had the shale gas and lots of new technology firms coming in. I guess money attracts money.

“They’re going to build a new gas cracker plant near here, which will be a whole new boom for this area.

“There will be a lot of jobs and travelling workers coming in. We’ll see a new influx of money.”

Paul lives just a few miles away from a six-well natural gas production site which was opened on the edge of Pittsburgh airport by former coal-mining company Consol Energy - which is based in Canonsburg,

It harvests enough gas each day from the fracked rock to power 100,000 homes.

Here in Nottinghamshire there are groups opposed to the practice amid concerns over the impact it would have on the environment and water supplies.

In the US, energy firms - including Consol - say they work with environmental organisations to make sure safety standards are maintained.

Mr Henderson added: “We certainly have a responsibility, a never-ending responsibility, to make sure that we do this right and we hold ourselves to the highest standards and that we hold each other accountable. But at the end of the day I think we have to step back and realise the benefits we have seen from this energy development.”

He said ‘many states’ travel to south west Pennsylvania to learn ‘ about our experience’,

“Our challenge is to make sure we protect the environment in our local communities,” he added.

State senator for the area Camera Bartolotta, who is vice-chairman of energy and environmental resources, insists fracking is safe.

In addressing delegates from the UK at an event in Canonsburg, she said: “Birds aren’t falling out of the sky, dogs and cats aren’t running crazy - it’s clean, it’s quiet. There’s grass everywhere.

These are farmers’ fields where they produce crops and they make a living from farming, or dairy farms where their animals are grazing right next to a compressor and nothing bad is happening.”

The Republican politician revealed how at its ‘zenith’ a ‘couple of years ago’ the industry employed more than 330,000 Pennsylvanians.

She added: “For every one job on a well pad at a well site there are on average 14 other peripheral jobs that are created from that one.

“When you think about what happens on a well pad, when you bring in industry like that and all those workers for the time it takes to get a well from start to finish, it literally takes thousands of thousands of lives.

“The impact fee is something that goes to the municipalities, the communities where the impact is being felt.

“Sixty per cent of that money goes into those municipalities where the fracking trucks, the water trucks, the sand trucks and all of the heavy hauling is happening. It beats up the roads, the bridges and things like that so this is a fee that’s for those municipalities that they can use to restore the damage done by the industry.

“But what’s amazing is just a couple of months ago that impact fee for Pennsylvania had its $1bn mark. That is on top of all the other taxes that the industry pays. We had some townships in my boroughs in south western Pennsylvania that didn’t have plumbing. Some of these people had wells, they didn’t have proper water. They have been able to use this money to make all of those upgrades and make all of those improvements.”

One community leader has used the $500,000 a year impact fee to buy a new ambulance which he shares with five neighbouring municipalities. The cash has also been spent on road repair equipment; snow removal equipment and a helipad.

“It’s phenomenal the benefit that has come to the people that live in south western Pennsylvania,” added Senator Bartolotta. “They appreciate this industry. “Their neighbours, their friends and family work in the industry and they benefit from the industry on so many levels. I can’t thank them enough for actually being here and sticking it out through the tough times.”

Paul Kwiatek, of Imperial, Pittsburgh. Picture: Martin Phillips
Shale well pad. Picture: Mark Simpson
Shale well fracking site in Ohio, US. Photo: Mark Simpson