Drilling conference set in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH – As development of the massive Marcellus and Utica shale fields continues – and Royal Dutch Shell is planning an ethane cracker in Monaca, Pa. – hundreds of oil and gas industry officials are headed to the Steel City.

The 2012 Developing Unconventional Gas Conference and Exhibition is set for today and Thursday at the downtown David L. Lawrence Convention Center. The event comes just days after the International Energy Agency released a report stating that shale drilling could help the U.S. surpass Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer by 2020.

During the 2010 conference, a large crowd of anti-industry protesters gathered outside the convention center to express their opposition to the fracking process, claiming the process contaminates groundwater. Two years later, some of the same concerns remain. Reports of methane possibly contaminating a Marshall County residential drinking water well caused some local residents to wonder how safe the drilling process is.

Drilling, fracking, processing, transporting and cracking in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations throughout the Ohio Valley continues to increase. Major corporations such as Chesapeake Energy, Gulfport Energy, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Dominion Resources, MarkWest Energy, Williams Partners and Royal Dutch Shell are all taking their stakes by investing billions of dollars to harvest the resources that lie thousands of feet underground.

In addition to the natural gas found in the Marcellus and Utica formations, oil and natural gas liquids (ethane, propane, butane and pentane) are also prevalent in the rocks – particularly the farther west one drills. The report shows that oil and gas from unconventional sources in the U.S. is expected to significantly increase until 2035.

Karl Rove, adviser to former President George W. Bush, is scheduled to speak on how the results of this year’s elections will impact the drilling industry. Others scheduled to speak include:

– Jim Palm, chief executive officer of Gulfport Energy – the company now drilling and fracking wells in the Egypt Valley area of Belmont County;

– Trevor Rees-Jones, founder and chairman of Chief Oil and Gas – the company which sold its Marshall County assets to oil giant Chevron last year;

– John B. Walker, president and chief executive officer of EnerVest – a company which has a percentage stake in some local Chesapeake Energy drilling operations;

– Ray Walker, vice president and chief operating officer of Range Resources; and

– Michael Krancer, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.