Pennsylvania’s pipeline building boom could expand the nations’ and perhaps the world’s, supply of natural gas. And this boom includes an estimated 4,600 miles of new interstate pipes, tunneling under Pennsylvania’s farms, wetlands, waterways, and backyards. That’s on top of 6800 miles of existing interstate natural gas pipes, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Drillers eager to reach new markets are frustrated right now, because there’s just not enough room in the current pipeline system to transport their gas beyond regional markets. “That gas languishes and it builds up and now that price will drop,” said Rob Boulware, a spokesman for Seneca Resources.
Today, Marcellus Shale gas sold at less than $2/MMBtu, which is about a dollar lower than gas .
While producers and utilities try to expand their infrastructure, the pipeline construction boom has run up against opposition in small towns and rural areas where environmentalists and residents are pushing back. Some opponents simply don’t want their land disturbed, or taken by eminent domain. But other activists see pipelines as part of a larger mission to end drilling altogether.
“The pipelines are being built in order to induce more drilling and fracking,” said Maya van Rossum with the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. “And of course more drilling and fracking results in the need for more pipelines. So the two are inextricably intertwined and if you oppose one, truthfully, you have to oppose the other.”
Luke Jackson is an analyst with Bentek Energy, a firm that specializes in natural gas. Jackson says that just 5 years ago, the Marcellus Shale, which is made up primarily of Pennsylvania’s gas fields was producing two billion cubic feet of gas a day. Today that’s jumped to 19 billion cubic feet every day. And he predicts, in just 4 years, there will be 30 billion cubic feet of gas coming out of the region. That’s a 1400 percentage rise in just 10 years.
“There’s so [many] molecules out there, whether its gas, whether its oil, whether it’s natural gas liquids, you just have a ton of supply on the market at the moment,” said Jackson.
And that massive supply is too much for the current system of pipelines to carry. There’s a traffic jam of gas molecules in the pipeline system. Seneca Resources is a natural gas driller, one of the many trying to expand their number of customers by delivering gas to new markets. Their spokesman Rob Boulware says demand for new pipes to carry all that gas, and to ease the traffic jam, are so high, the new routes for that gas is already sold out. And some of those pipelines won’t come online for another couple of years.
“Think of it like a turnpike that no one is driving on but people are lined up at the gate to go through it,” said Boulware.
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