Marcellus drilling is coming to the area.

Consol Energy, a company that is in both gas and coal, has permitted five horizontal wells on the Kenneth Meadows property at Normantown in Gilmer County.

Depth is 6100' for the first four wells and 6400' for the fifth well.

New data from energy industry analysts and the federal government show that the Marcellus Shale is about to become the most productive natural gas field in the United States, even though serious drilling began only five years ago.

While New York is holding back on Marcellus drilling, it has been moving forward in parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.

Jay Apt, a professor of technology at Carnegie Mellon University, questions whether the bounty will fuel the growth of local industry, or whether it will be shipped to Canada, the Gulf Coast or even overseas, where the price of natural gas is much higher.

In 2008, Marcellus production barely registered on national energy reports.

In July, the combined output from Pennsylvania and West Virginia wells was about 7.4 billion cubic feet per day, according to Kyle Martinez, an analyst at Bentek Energy.

That's more than double the 3.6 billion cubic feet from last April, and represents over 25 percent of national shale gas production.

The Marcellus Shale is a gas-rich formation of rock thousands of feet below ground. Advances in drilling technology made the shale accessible, which led to a boom in production, jobs and profits, and a drop in natural gas prices for consumers.

But there are also concerns about pollution and impacts to roads and other public services.

In West Virginia concerns have been expressed that drillers have not employed state workers.

Apt said having a natural resource bounty is one thing, and using it wisely is another. The current wholesale price of natural gas is about $3 here, but $12 or more in Europe and Japan.

"It's clear people will want to export" the Marcellus gas, Apt said, adding that such an outcome could lead to what economists call "the resource curse," which is when the general population hardly benefits, while a few get very rich.

But Apt said there are some hopeful signs, such as the Shell Oil Co. plan to build a petrochemical "cracker" plant to turn Marcellus gas into other consumer and industrial products including plastics.

It's widely believed that if Shell moves ahead with plans to build that $2 billion plant north of Pittsburgh, other small industries will follow.

Efforts to local a "cracker" plant in West Virginia have yet to materialize.

It looks like the Marcellus region will be in the top production spot for several years, analysts say, while coal production declines.

Several major Marcellus region pipeline expansions are scheduled for completion this fall, which should allow production to grow even more, and make it easier to ship gas to other parts of the northeast.

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