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October 12, 2013

Energy revolution will be Rotary speaker’s topic

CUMBERLAND — A well-known expert on U.S. energy resources, including the economics of natural gas drilling in Marcellus shale, is planning a presentation to the Rotary Club of Cumberland. One of the points of his presentation is that what you have heard about energy resources in the United States isn’t necessarily true.

“The equation has changed. ... The U.S. is now the No. 1 producer of oil and gas (in the world),” said Professor Bernard Weinstein, an economist and associate director of the Maguire Energy Institute, based at Southern Methodist University in Texas. Weinstein said the “shale revolution” is an economic game changer both internationally and within the U.S. In the next 10 years, Weinstein said, pipelines may be in essence reversing flow from traditional oil and gas-producing regions in the Southwest going north to gas being sent from northern states to the South and Southwest, where growing population means growing demand for energy.

Weinstein said he plans to present an overview of the energy situation in the U.S., with some specific commentary on natural gas development in Marcellus shale. Energy issues are complex and Weinstein doesn’t like terms such as “energy independence,” which he says are meaningless, because they have no context.

Gas in many of the states with Marcellus shale formations is cheaper than pumping gas out of the ground in the Southwest, because the Marcellus natural gas is drier, he said. The energy revolution in the U.S. is taking place on private land, since the federal government has essentially shut down any energy development on public lands, Weinstein said. Fracking is a rapidly-developing technology, Weinstein said.

Marcellus shale formations throughout the eastern U.S. are believed to harbor large untapped natural gas resources. The shale is a sedimentary rock formation that extends underground through about 95,000 square miles in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland.

In Maryland, the shale formations are found only in Allegany and Garrett counties. No fracking will occur in Maryland until a report is issued by a commission appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley. The commission is expected to finish its work in August 2014.

Weinstein said states that haven’t developed their Marcellus shale gas are missing out on a huge opportunity for economic expansion. Fracking isn’t a new process, although horizontal drilling is relatively new. The federal government is now looking to regulate the development of natural gas in Marcellus shale, which has been left up to the states until now. Increased federal involvement in regulating fracking “runs the risk of devastating this revolution,” Weinstein said.

“The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is chomping at the bit to oversee hydraulic fracturing,” Weinstein said. That despite the reality that there’s no evidence states have been anything but careful in the regulation and permitting of gas development. “The EPA wants to go to a party to which it was not invited,” Weinstein said.

Weinstein has worked for several U.S. government agencies including the President's Commission on School Finance, the IRS and the Federal Trade Commission, according to the institute’s website. His opinion pieces have been published in national newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal.

Matthew Bieniek can be contacted at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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