Since the first of the year have come the first indications that the exploration of the Marcellus Shale will not be transforming the region at breakneck speed. For more than a year the depressed price of gas has been troubling for the industry but the dip down to $2.50 MMbtu has prompted a change in strategy.
First is the shifting of resources from the northeastern corner of the state to the southwest to take advantage of the additional gases that can be gathered and sold from the wet gas that is found in the Marcellus Shale. That’s a plus for our region.
Second is that the high price of oil is an incentive for the gas companies to look at exploring the Utica formation because it contains oil as well as natural gas. That’s not as good for western PA since the Utica formation is more accessible in OH. The heightened interest in Utica will help with the activity in Butler, Beaver and Lawrence Counties as the Utica shale is closer to the surface too.
Drillers are also beginning to look at other formations that have natural gas deposits to see what the related oil/gas properties are. The Marcellus is going to be a big play for a long time but the speed of its development will be throttled back while gas remains cheap.
The slowdown in exploration may or may not be related to the dragging on of the announcement of the Shell and Aither cracker plant locations. What was to be an ‘end of the month’ announcement in January seems no closer to being made in mid-March and a statement made last week by Sheel CEO Peter Voser at an energy conference in Houston hints that Shell is in no hurry. Voser commented that the Dutch company’s final decision on the investment was “quite a few years away.” A shell spokesperson clarified later that Voser meant that the planning would take a few years but that a decision was imminent. No definition was made of ‘imminent.’