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Natural-gas impact to last generations

| Friday, Sept. 21, 2012, 9:00 a.m.

PHILADELPHIA — The Marcellus shale rock layer is just one of three under the Appalachian region that could produce natural gas for generations, Range Resources Corp. Executive Chairman John H. Pinkerton said at an industry conference here on Friday.

“We've just scratched the surface here,” said Pinkerton. “This is bigger than even I thought. It's bigger than I thought six years ago, it's bigger than I thought six months ago, it's bigger than I thought three months ago, it's bigger than I thought one month ago. All of our producers are making incredible progress.”

The Marcellus shale is the best-known of the region's gas riches, but the basin has at least three gas-rich levels, including the Utica and the Upper Devonian. Texas-based Range Resources has about 700,000 acres of land in the region, but effectively wields three times as much control because there are three layers, Pinkerton said.

They're all profitable — allowing enough room for many drillers to succeed, he said.

His remarks came on the second day of the second Shale Gas Insight conference in Philadelphia, organized by industry group Marcellus Shale Coalition.

With generations of impact on the horizon, it's critically important that drillers collaborate to ensure their work meets the highest standards for health and environmental safety, Mark Brownstein of the Environmental Defense Fund said during a panel discussion. Drilling isn't temporary — the risks involving waste disposal, air quality and the state's wilderness are extended the same length of time the business benefits are, Brownstein and another conservationist said.

Conflict in the public and in the courts about drilling is “driven by the sense that neither the regulators or the industry have their arms around this,” Brownstein said. “Many of you in the room know that not to be the case. And I don't think that needs to be the case. But, if you step outside of your industry and you step outside of places like Pennsylvania where this is going on, you'll find that there's a tremendous amount of skepticism here.”

Several industry officials and consultants discussed creating regional centers akin to accrediting agencies for colleges to ensure that companies meet high standards.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition has done small-scale work to collaborate and challenge its members to meet higher standards, said Andrew Paterson, the group's vice president for technical and regulatory affairs. Another group covering larger-scale efforts could help, but public acceptance of the industry often comes naturally, too, as long-term benefits materialize, he said.

“When the community has had enough time to get used to the oil and gas industry, it tends to be embraced,” said Paterson, a member of the panel. “When your neighbor has a job or one of your family members has a job in the oil and gas industry, it tends to become a part of the fabric of the community.”

Long-term drilling actually could change the fabric of Pennsylvania, an especially big risk for development in central Pennsylvania's wilderness, said Dale E. Fox, executive director at the DuBois-based Headwaters Resource Conservation & Development Council.

“These people can make good partners to work with, but ... we need the industry to be sensitive to the culture of the place they're coming into, and that's one thing they could still do some work on,” she said.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or

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