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Connecting Local Businesses to the Natural Gas Industry in the Marcellus Shale

Posted: October 31, 2010

Business development related to development of the Marcellus is an important topic for many local communities. Here we summarize the Penn State Extension "Your Business and Marcellus Shale" Webinar Series and provide links to additional information and resources.

Written by Dana Ray and Carol Loveland

The first experimental drilling in the Marcellus Shale occurred in 2003 in Washington County. Since 2007 drilling has expanded greatly. Business development has also changed due to natural gas exploration. Penn State Cooperative Extension’s Marcellus Education Team has developed information resources and conducted workshops to assist local businesses and entrepreneurs with identifying and seizing opportunities presented by Marcellus Shale development.

The team provided three series of webinars in 2009 and 2010. Participants learned about the business implications and opportunities arising from Marcellus Shale and how other local businesses were responding.  Participants gathered at designated locations across the state over the breakfast hour to listen to successful business people, entrepreneurs, and industry representatives discuss the possibilities available for businesses in the natural gas industry. Questions were taken from each location and answered by the statewide panel.  The participants answered questions such as:

  • How did you get involved in the natural gas industry?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages to working with the natural gas industry? 
  • What have you learned about the industry that other people should know?
  • What challenges have you experienced?  How were you able to overcome them?  At what cost?
  • What products or services does the entrepreneur provide?

After the statewide webinar session, each local site conducted their own discussion, during which the community members were able to talk about what they learned, and then learned from each other.  "There are so many opportunities and services that people just don't know about until they meet someone who can do it!" Jon Laughner, member of the Marcellus Education Team and webinar facilitator noted.

There is an interesting and unique urgency and permanence to these conversations. "This is not just a temporary industry," Laughner emphasized. "This is an industry that someone can start in now and retire from. The natural gas industry isn't going away any time soon."  While there are some obvious ways businesses can be involved, such as trucking, welding, and electrical engineering, there is room for innovation.  One man started a catering business to deliver meals to the drilling sites, since workers often do not have time to find food or a place to make it if they are from other states.

Creativity and innovation are important.  Customer service and responsiveness are also highly valued by industry. "If you have a service, you'll get a call at 2 am! They need something fast because there is a lot of money spent every hour to run the rigs. If they need a welder, they need one willing to come 24/7."

The webinar format also provided an innovative way for Extension to partner with local business development providers and economic development groups, such as Chambers of Commerce, Small Business Development Centers, local Main Street programs, and others.

The Marcellus Education Team is now focusing on developing publications that will provide statistics and suggestions for navigating these new business opportunities.

To view the recorded webinar series, please visit the business section of the Penn State Extension Natural Gas website.