There's been nothing like it since the late 19th Century when Coal was King and loggers ranged over the Pennsylvania hills taking out lumber by the traincar load. But it looks like "boom" times are back in PA-- at least for a while-- as any number of wild-catters and established natural gas companies see money to be made thousands of feet down in the Marcellus Shale of Appalachia.
Yes, we are talking about natural gas here, folks. I recall many years ago being told by a geologist friend that there is natural gas in them thar Pennsyltucky Hills, but at the time (with gas at $2 per Mcf), it just wasn't worth going after. But now gas has hit a sustained level of $10, and the drilling rigs are rolling in.
His Excellency, Governor Rendell, is busy pushing his own energy plan which banks heavily on "renewables," and I am not sure if anyone over in the State Legislature has taken notice of what is going on out in the hinterlands. It's "budget time" here in PA, after all. But it seems to me that we are in a fair way to be "taken" once again, with a natural resource stripped away from the state by any number of "outsiders" and precious little left to show for it save unreclaimed drilling sites.
Some states, like West Virginia, that have a similar history, have wised up to the fact that you can work with utilities to secure bennies for the public good when utilities want something. You want to run a necessary transmission line? Okay. But you'll have to share some gravy with the residents. And I see nothing wrong with that at all.
Yes, I know. A lot of this natural gas is under private land, and leases for mineral rights that sold for $200 an acre last year are worth ten times that, now. But a lot of this gas is under public land as well.
I am not saying that the gas should not be extracted or that Pennsylvania should pass proscriptive laws and regulations that make extraction impossible. So long as we are dependent on fossil fuels (which does not look likely to change in my lifetime), we will have to extract those fuels-- in the least environmentally disruptive way possible, I hope.
My concern is this: is anyone in the regulatory world at home? Is anyone taking notice of what is going on? Is anyone going to assure that existing environmental and safety standards are met, and that the public wealth will be enhanced by this opportunity? I have my own thoughts about this-- and I hope I am wrong.