Sixth Annual Chautauqua County Energy Conference & Expo Continues Today

MAYVILLE – National Fuel officials believe natural gas will be a viable future energy source for America.

The sixth annual Chautauqua County Energy Conference & Expo, hosted by the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency, began Friday and will continue through this afternoon. The conference is being held at the Chautauqua Suites and Expo Center, 215 West Lake Road, Mayville.

Friday’s sessions began at 12:15 p.m., with categories of panels including alternative power (such as wind and solar energy) and natural gas.

During their lecture, Cliff Mason and Ken Lawton, from National Fuel, spoke about the future of compressed natural gas use in vehicles. According to Mason, “Natural gas is competitively priced and hopefully will be in the future,” noting that the cost of natural gas is currently equivalent to $1.99 per gallon. Mason also stated that “It’s going to take a long, long time … to cause an upward push on natural gas prices.” Natural gas currently accounts for a only small percentage of total fuel consumption in the United States, but companies like National Fuel wish to expand the prevalence of natural gas and decrease the nation’s reliance on foreign fuels, such as gasoline.

The panel discussion was mainly focused on natural gas becoming a viable option for fueling vehicles. The key target market for natural gas-powered vehicles, according to Mason, is heavy duty fleets, including school districts and trash haulers, and high mileage light duty vehicles, including taxis and delivery vehicles. Because heavy duty and high mileage vehicles require significantly more fuel, they see a much quicker return on investment than the average consumer. Ford and Chevy currently produce compressed natural gas/gasoline bi-fuel vehicles for consumer purchase, which generally cost $7,000 to $10,000 more than their gasoline-only equivalents.

Ken Lawton, an Energy Consultant for National Fuel, has been to the Expo since its inaugural year. He appreciates that the “Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency encourages dialogue in the energy industry” and that “(Because of the Expo) businesses have found ways to work together.” Lawton also added that he believes people who have attended the conference have learned ways to lower their personal energy costs.

During Mary Hajdu’s panel on Utica Shale drilling – an overview of geology, property leasing and current laws regarding drilling – it was clear that shale drilling will be a part of Chautauqua County’s future in one way or another. According to Hajdu, an attorney at Burgett & Robbins, LLP, close to 75 percent of Chautauqua County has already been leased for shallow well drilling. Burgett & Robbins, LLP, represents the Snowbelt Landowners Group, which consists of landowners in the Western New York area looking to negotiate more favorable lease terms, properly market their land to oil companies and learn about lease terms from a legal standpoint, among other things.

Hajdu noted that shale drilling had caused a “revolution” in places like Pennsylvania, where natural gas industry jobs are paying an average of $81,000 per year and local landowners are making royalties on their land. Landowners in “wet gas” areas can expect up front payment of $3000 to $4000 per acre for leasing the land to an oil company, and monthly royalties generally around 18 percent of what is extracted. Most leases in our area are for “dry gas”, and on top of 12.5 percent monthly royalties, landowners can expect payment of $2 to $5 per acre up front. The theme of the Utica Shale drilling panel focused on the fact that drilling in the Utica layer is far safer than current drilling practices because it will be so heavily regulated by New York State. The Snowbelt Landowners Group and many area residents wish to lift the ban on Utica Shale drilling in New York and start pumping money back into our local communities.

For more information about the Expo and those involved, call 661-8900 or visit www.ccida.com.