LEWISTOWN - A group of people gathered at Lewistown Country Club on Thursday to hear William G. Burket, a Compliance Coordinator with Range Resources, explain the ins and outs of the natural gas industry.
With 30 years of experience in chemistry and environmental issues Burket said the natural gas industry "is changing the world."
Burket said there are a lot of misconceptions and misinformation out there about drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation.
Sentinel photo by TIM SHUMAKER
The Juniata River Valley Chamber of Commerce held its Eggs N’ Issues event Thursday at Lewistown Country Club with William Burkett speaking about all that you can do with the Marcellus Shale that is being drilled for gas and all the by-products that can be made.
The fracturing of shale formations to extract natural gas is not a new thing; it has been done since the 1800s, when drillers used dynamite instead of water to fracture the shale, Burket said.
Burket said what has changed is the process, which is now done using hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" as its commonly known.
Fracking requires drilling vertically to a certain depth before then turning the drill bit horizontally into the shale formation. Along the way as the drill bit passes underground aquifers, the well is sealed off to prevent any contamination into ground water.
Once the well has been drilled, a mixture of mostly water and sand along with a mixture of chemicals is pumped into the well, causing the shale to break and release the natural gas.
Burket said the mixture consists of about 94 percent water, 5 percent sand and less than 1 percent consisting of the chemical mixture.
Burket said the chemical mixture has been a contentious issue for some, who believe it is toxic and endangers the water supply. But Burket contends the mixtures are not toxic and now thanks to a new law, the public can see for themselves through the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection office.
The water mixture that is pumped down the well and then back out, is now being reused, Burket said. Natural gas companies were attempting to treat the water and or store it elsewhere, but reusing 98 percent of the water has proved to work better for the industry.
In addition, Burket said the drill cuttings are shipped off to landfills, who welcome the extra soil to back fill over the day's garbage that was delivered. The cuttings are not toxic and are scanned for any radioactive material, the same way garbage trucks are upon entering a landfill.
Burket shot back at some of the critics of the natural gas industry, specifically the creator of the film, "Gas Land."
Burket said a filmmaker's job is to "evoke an emotional response" from the audience, which was accomplished in the movie, but the "documentary" was not based on the facts. Burket pointed to a part of the movie shot at a place called "Burning Spring," as an example.
Burket said Burning Spring got its name from the indigenous people who lived there and knew of the high concentration of natural gas near the surface.
"The guy who made 'Gas Land' is not a scientist, he's a filmmaker," Burket said.
As a precautionary measure, Burket said gas companies consult the landowner and perform tests on local water wells before they begin drilling.
Burket said he recently tested a well that had a high concentration of methane, which is something he will have to discuss with the landowner before deciding on whether or not to move forward with drilling.
Burket said the gas industry has created 240,000 jobs across Pennsylvania.
"People are coming back to Pennsylvania," he said.
With so many oil and gas wells drilled in Pennsylvania, Burket said that if the infrastructure could keep pace with the supply, "in the next three to four years we won't have to look outside the country for energy."
"OPEC is losing its grip," Burket said of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, the international body that sets the wholesale price of oil and gas.
Burket said the slow-down in drilling recently is because there are not enough pipelines to carry the gas off to processing plants. And planned pipelines, like the one proposed to run from Pennsylvania to Massachusetts, is being held up by the federal government.
Burket said he sees the natural gas industry as something that will continue to expand and permeate peoples' lives in ways they never thought possible.
Burket said he is already starting to see a shift in the auto industry and several companies, both foreign and domestic have started to make cars and trucks that can run on natural gas.
In addition, coal-fired power plants, which are under constant scrutiny from the Environmental Protection Agency and environmentalists, can be converted to generate electricity using natural gas.
Other economic benefits of the gas industry include, investments by gas companies to repair roads and growth in the hotel and restaurant industries.
Burket said his goal is to educate people about the benefits of drilling for natural gas, and quell any fears they may have on possible environmental issues that arise because of the drilling.
Although the Marcellus Shale formation doesn't run through the Juniata Valley, the Utica Shale formation does, which some industry analysts contend could have just as much potential in producing large quantities of natural gas.
The Utica Shale formation lies deeper than the Marcellus Shale formation and gas companies have only just begun attempting to drill to that depth in parts of Ohio, Burket said.