PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A Marcellus gas drill in Lawrence County is a sign of things to come.

The big oil companies — Shell, Chevron and Exxon — are getting into gas drilling in a big way, bringing big economic development to the region.

In addition to the late July corn stalks, something else is sprouting up in Lawrence County — a Marcellus gas well.

“This is our first well in this area and I expect to drill somewhere between 10 and 20 more in the following year to 18 months,” Bill Langin, a spokesman for Shell Appalachia, said.

A year ago, Shell Oil purchased the Appalachia Gas Company’s 100,000 leased acres in Lawrence and Butler counties and now plans to drill in earnest.

Chevron, with a regional headquarters in Fayette County, acquired more than 700,000 acres and plans 70 wells. Exxon recently acquired 317,000 leased acres for drilling.

Langin says the commitment of the big oil companies means the Marcellus is for real and that means jobs and economic development for the region.

“I think you’ll see a big uptick in both activity and jobs – just the number of well sites alone suggests that all the companies are going to invest significant amounts of money in the area,” Langin said.

Shell and others are transitioning from oil to the development of natural gas which is seen as a so-called bridge fuel to a cleaner energy future.

Natural gas produces far less carbon than coal and it’s abundant in the United States – especially in the Marcellus — the largest shale formation in the country.

“It means potential future energy independence if you can convert gas for power plants, for transportation and less reliance on foreign sources of energy,” Langin said.

Andy Sheehan: “And your belief is that out here in a cornfield that you can do this safely?”

“I believe we can and if I didn’t think we could, Shell would not be here developing and producing the hydrocarbons,” Langin said.

By this time next year, Marcellus gas drilling will be in full gear in all counties north and south of Pittsburgh, having a major economic impact on the region.

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