Water quality, economic benefits among issues addressed at Gas Expo in Indiana

| Thursday, July 4, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Natural gas industry professionals and representatives of companies serving the industry were on hand last Wednesday for the Pennsylvania Gas Expo at Indiana University of Pennsylvania's Kovalchick Conference and Athletic Center.

The expo, in its fourth year hosted in Indiana by Renda Broadcasting, packed Ed Fry Arena, the KCAC lobby and space outside the building with more than a hundred vendor displays and featured four seminars in Toretti Auditorium.

As Marcellus Shale drilling continues to expand, the Indiana County Chamber of Commerce sees Indiana County as “poised to be the hub of the energy industry,” according to chamber president James Struzzi.

“We are just beginning to tap the resources in the Marcellus and Utica basins, which are expected to be multi-decade producers,” Struzzi said. “That's great news for Indiana County because we are centered at the heart of those basins, literally in the center of a 250-mile radius for the gas and energy industry.”

The seminars highlighted workforce development, water quality, environmental best practices and land leasing.

Representatives from IUP and Westmoreland County Community College, as well as industry representative Michelle Buczkowski from Consol Energy, discussed the growth opportunities, future trends and primary skills and knowledge needed by the energy industry's workforce.

The water quality panel included IUP chemistry professor Nate McElroy, Cindy Rogers of the Evergreen Conservancy, and Scott May and Anngela Chapman of Environmental Service Laboratories, Inc., headquartered in Indiana. The discussion centered on Marcellus Shale companies' efforts to establish baseline water quality measurements prior to conducting any construction or drilling activities.

“Presumed liability, that's the thing that drives this whole operation,” May said. “...If the water goes bad, the only way to prove they didn't do it is to have these baseline tests... There is a strong effort to make sure they know what's in that water now.”

Rogers said her group has used grant money to place 32 data-loggers in streams throughout the county to measure and record information about water quality. It also conducts manual water sampling throughout the year.

“Every stream reacts a little differently, every stream has a different conductivity, so we're starting to be able to look at the soils, the watershed use, things surrounding that data. We just think having good information is a good place to start, and then we can know if there's a change,” said Rogers.

The environmental best practices discussion focused on the gas industry's efforts to minimize the environmental impacts of drilling and highlighted developing technologies in use already.

Recycling and reuse of hydraulic fracturing fluid has been adopted by a majority of operators to mitigate the risk of improper disposal.

“Really, the safest way to dispose of it right now is to not dispose of it at all,” said Mike Knapp of MDS Energy. He estimated close to 90 percent of the oil and gas that's produced as a byproduct of Marcellus Shale drilling is being recycled.

“The technologies as far as filtering the water are developing every day, getting better and better. Most operators can handle that water, take it to their next site,” he said.

The industry is also moving toward what Knapp called “Green Completions,” which capture methane and other gasses normally allowed to escape into the atmosphere, and is shifting away from diesel fuel in favor of natural gas to power equipment.

The next expo is scheduled for July 30, 2014.

Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913 or greinbold@tribweb.com.

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