WAYNE COUNTY - There is “gold” in these hills, but vast reserves of natural gas remain mostly untapped here today.

WAYNE COUNTY - There is “gold” in these hills, but vast reserves of natural gas remain mostly untapped here today.
The county, however, is an energy hotspot within the colossal geologic formation known as the Marcellus Shale, which has trillions of cubic feet of natural gas trapped inside it in an area stretching from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, to lower New York.
According to Bernstein Research, an investment-research group, Wayne County is one of five “core” counties in the state - joining Bradford, Lackawanna, Susquehanna, and Wyoming -  with favorable natural gas deposits due to the thickness of the shale and the volume of gas within it, among other factors.
Nearly 363 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could be recovered throughout the entire shale, said Penn State University geoscientist Terry Engelder, a leading authority on the topic.
For comparison, the U.S., residential and commercial, consumed 1.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in August, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.  
“That’s the million dollar question,” said Engelder, of the county’s natural gas future. “Obviously, Susquehanna County is doing quite well.  We just don’t know yet.  No one knows.”
Chesapeake Energy Corp., the largest producer of natural gas in the U.S., predicts triple that number - about 1,300 trillion - will be recoverable based on the total size of the shale, but estimates should be conservative, said Engelder.
“Not all areas of the Marcellus Shale are going to be accessible,” he said, citing property ownership as the primary deterrent. 

Susquehanna County has been roaring with drilling, according to state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) records.
About 80 wells have been permitted there by the state agency with some extracting natural gas today. 
Wayne County, however, is incredibly quiet so far, said Mark Carmon, a DEP spokesperson.
“As far as I know, there was only one well drilled in Wayne,” said Carmon. It’s “nothing like Susquehanna at this point.”
The well is located in Clinton Township, the records say.
A drilling permit application has been pending in Preston Township since April. A drilling permit was issued in Clinton Township in March, but the site appears to be inactive. There were also applications filed for natural gas drilling permits in Damascus Township and Manchester Township, but no further action has been taken there, according to the records.
“Just because they have permits doesn’t mean they started actually drilling,” said Carmon.  “You’re talking about a phenomena that is maybe a year old or less. ... It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in Wayne.”
However, natural gas land leases, which must be acquired from property owners before actual permitting and drilling begins, are exploding in the county.
As of September 2008, 1,400 property owners in northern Wayne County have signed leases, according to a Wayne Independent report.
The DEP does not monitor lease activity.

Landowner group
A massive group of property owners, representing 75,000 mostly contiguous acres in the county’s northern half and Susquehanna County, is betting that the industry will come.
It will just take some more time.
“Things are definitely moving forward,” said Michael Uretsky, a spokesperson for the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance.
The alliance is trying to ensure landowners in the group receive fair leases that do not negatively impact their property, the environment or the community.
Similar to a collective bargaining arrangement, some property owners are grouping together for Marcellus-related reasons throughout the state.
“Have their been lots of offers, absolutely,” said Uretsky, of potential gas leases. “We’re still going back and forth” with negotiations.
“There’s some things that are extremely important to us,” he noted.  “We do a lot of due diligence. We’re not going to deal with any landmen period.”
For more information on the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance - http://www.nwpoa.info/.

[Editor’s note: This is a first in an occasional series of articles highlighting various aspects of the natural gas bonanza in the region. If you wish to comment on the issue or how it affects you, please contact the writer at (570)253-3055.]