LOCK HAVEN - The problem is not that there is too little information about the potential of the Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling industry interest in Pennsylvania.
The problem is sifting through the mounds of data and determining what it means today - and what it will mean tomorrow - for Clinton County.
One man who has made a noble and extensive effort to collect, sort, understand and distribute the information from national, state and local agencies, and from industry interests, is Penn State's Clinton County Cooperative Extension Director James Ladlee, who provided the Clinton County Economic Partnership with a report at its meeting Wednesday.
Ladlee, who is feverishly educating himself and the public on industry, economic and environmental issues surrounding the the drilling industry, has been a central figure in a number of articles appearing in the local newspaper, and is an active participant in many aspects of the local response to those endeavors as an adviser to county government, as an informational clearinghouse for local citizens, as a representative to the local natural gas task force and as a public speaker to various groups and agencies.
His is not necessarily a voice for government or industry, and he appears perfectly willing to offer information about the potential negatives along with the economic positives that are driving the industry's interest.
One of his slides last evening was a map of Pennsylvania showing a wide swathe of "highest interest" in Marcellus Shale exploration across Pennsylvania. The area covered nearly one-third of the state, a band that stretches from the southwestern section and extends to the upper northeastern counties - with Clinton County solidly in the middle.
As for the upsurge in gas exploration here, Ladlee has figures to back up claims that Clinton County will see an increase. In 2009, he said, there were 41 Marcellus permits issued, and 12 Marcellus wells drilled in Clinton County. So far this year, 35 permits have been issued and 23 wells have been drilled.
In 2010 in nearby Lycoming County, he said, 106 Marcellus permits have been issued and 67 wells have been drilled, and in Centre County, 80 permits have been issued and 26 wells have been drilled.
In all three counties, drilling has more than doubled.
Anadarko Petroleum Corp., the company with the most interest in Clinton County, has five wells online, he said, and they have produced 208 million cubic feet of gas so far. The average daily production ranged from 11.9 to 697 million cubic feet, he said, although companies have the ability to control and restrict production levels.
The average Pennsylvania well could generate revenues of $176,190 per month, with royalties paid in the amount of $26,428 at 15 percent, Ladlee said.
When it comes to local leases, information has been hard to find, but Ladlee said if each well has an estimated lifetime production of between three and six billion cubic feet, with 2,782 to 4,636 wells on 464 well pads, the potential royalty payments amount to between $7.41 billion and $12.3 billion ... Yes, billion ... at a 15-percent royalty rate.
The state's "rig count" has gone from just nine in 2005 to 92 as of today, according to the Baker-Hughes report, he said.
And with each of those rigs comes a certain amount of employment, much of it front-loaded toward the construction phase of development.
Ladlee said it takes 410 different individuals across 150 different occupations to drill one Marcellus well, with a breakdown of 75 percent blue collar workers and 25 percent white collar occupations.
If 15 rigs operated in Clinton County for one year, he said, some 1,937 people would be employed full-time before and during drilling, and 29 people would continue to work while the active well is producing.
Ladlee said similar surges have occurred in rural and urban areas in Wyoming, Arkansas and Texas.
In those cases, he said, populations increased dramatically, along with building permits, school enrollments and employment.
There were also increased opportunities for entrepreneurship, as businesspeople looked for ways to service the industry and its workers. There were more jobs created in maintenance, repair, construction and the retail trades.
As for income, the median family and household income increased dramatically, Ladlee said, although that doesn't mean already-existing jobs and workers saw an increase in their wages. Households with incomes of $100,00 to $149,999, when added to the local income figures, resulted in the median jump.
And, as expected, home values increased as the upsurge in employees meant more home purchase and demand, and rental rates increased because of the demand in that area.
However, big truck traffic jumped, and traffic citations increased along with the number of rigs, he said.
Ladlee said evidence of the industry's growth is already here and will become more apparent in the coming years. He noted companies like Anadarko, Enerplus, Range Resources, Stone Energy and XTO are already exploring possibilities in Clinton County, and service companies like Trican are actively pursuing start-up operations.
Clinton County has a competitive advantage, he concluded, given its proximity to the Leidy natural gas storage field, its transportation corridors and rail service, the availability of space at local industrial parks, and a population ready and willing to work.