Gas industry leads economic development issues

BY STACI WILSON

Economic development in Susquehanna County seems to hinge on natural gas development.

The bulk of agenda items discussed by the county economic development board at its Thursday morning meeting were tied to the developing industry in some way.

The board discussed the possible reestablishment of five miles rail track from Simpson to Forest City.

Board chair John Kameen said representatives from the Lackawanna County Rail Authority indicated that there was a definite opening of usage for the rail line to bring in materials for the natural gas industry.

The potential five-mile track rebuild, Kameen reported, would cost about $5 million but that there may be public money available for rail projects. “They’re looking for a commitment from a natural gas company that they would have a need to use the site for pipe or water storage,” Kameen said.

Kameen also reported that Community Bank & Trust was recently acquired by FNB Corporation. The banking firm has 241 offices in small Pennsylvania towns, said Kameen.

But none of those offices, according to Kameen, were in Marcellus Shale areas. “The number one reason to get in the area is the Marcellus Shale,” Kameen said.

The economic development board chair also sits on the Community Bank Board of Directors but will no longer be on that board when the merger is completed. He reported the Clarks Summit office will be used as FNB’s northeastern Pennsylvania headquarters.

The board also discussed the possible extension of a water line from Montrose to Dimock by Cabot Oil and Gas Corp.

Since 2007, the county has attempted to get funding through various state and federal programs to run a water line to the county jail.

If the Dept. of Environmental Protection requires Cabot to install the water line, the county may be able to tap into it for use at the prison and recycling center, Progress Authority executive director Tony Ventello said.

The Progress Authority is also working on bringing a natural gas industry job expo to the Susquehanna County Career and Technology Center during the winter months. The date has not yet been determined.

Ventello reported that Chief Oil & Gas Assets in Susquehanna County were for sale; and also noted that eight of the top 10 volume natural gas wells in Pennsylvania were located in Susquehanna County.

“High production wells have a lot of value to the company,” Ventello said. “That’s what is going to keep them drilling here. (The gas companies) are not going to slow down.”

The board also discussed implications of the proposed state natural gas severance tax.

Ventello said that there were pros and cons to the proposals. One con, he said, is the proposal that calls for a 50-50 state/local split of revenue but with the local match being funded to PennDOT and not the county or municipalities.

Ventello, along with countywide economic development manager Brian Driscoll and Trehab executive director Dennis Phelps, planned to offer testimony about housing issues associated with natural gas development in the region to a State Senate panel this week.

But Ventello said, it is difficult to articulate rural problems to urban state legislators. “We need help (from the state). Infrastructure, water and sewer issues can’t be carried on the back of the local users.”

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