By Eric Boehm / Pa Independent
HARRISBURG — Despite low prices and a new tax on the industry, natural gas production in Pennsylvania has doubled in the past year.
Drillers operating in Pennsylvania’s expansive Marcellus shale gas field extracted 895 billion cubic feet of gas during the first six months of 2012, according to figures released by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
That’s up from about 435 billion cubic feet during the same period in 2011, according to DEP.
Confusion occurred last week when data initially posted to the department’s website did not include Chesapeake Energy Corp., one of the major drillers in the state.
After various errors were corrected this week, the data are finalized, said DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday.
More than 2,700 actively producing Marcellus shale gas wells exist in Pennsylvania, with the highest concentration in Washington and Greene counties in the state’s southwest corner and Tioga, Susquehanna and Bradford counties along the northern tier, according to DEP.
At the midpoint of 2011, about 1,600 wells were producing gas in the commonwealth, a figure that climbed to more than 2,200 by the end of last year.
The data are evidence that — despite near record-low prices for natural gas that have caused some companies to slow production and the creation of a new state tax on extracting natural gas — the Marcellus shale boom is continuing in Pennsylvania.
Patrick Creighton, spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, said the increased drilling was creating jobs, benefiting consumers with lower utility bills and helping the manufacturing sector.
“These production reports are proof positive that … Marcellus shale holds tremendous potential for decades to come,” he said.
The gas drilling industry supports more than 238,000 jobs in Pennsylvania, and has seen job growth jump by 150 percent for the three years ending in 2011. Job growth across all other sectors in the state declined for the same period, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry.
Mark Szybist, a staff attorney for PennFuture, an environmental organization here, said celebrating increased production should include a thorough review of the environmental impact of the industry.
“It would be nice if DEP tracked environmental consequences as much as they do the production itself,” Szybuist said. “It seems premature to assess what this production means without looking at those costs.”
Sunday said the department commissioned a yearlong study of emissions from natural gas compressor stations in Washington County, which began at the end of July.
The department also required all drillers in the state to submit emissions data for 2011. Sunday said that data would be available before the end of the year.
Contact Eric Boehm at firstname.lastname@example.org.