Marcellus economy on display at exhibition hall

    The Marcellus Shale Coalition has just wrapped up its annual natural gas drilling conference in Philadelphia.

    And while the major speeches and the anti-drilling protests have made it into the news this week, the main action for many of the people attending the Shale Gas Insight conference was the exhibition hall.

    That’s where companies large and small set up booths and sold their services. People like Tommy Monsey, who sat in front of a large tractor trailer he identified as a jet turbine-powered frack pump.

    “I am a fracker, yes. And I’m proud to be a fracker,” Monsey told StateImpact Pennsylvania. There were several booths like Green Field Energy Services‘, hawking products directly tied to the drilling process. But the exhibit hall was also lined with examples of those ancillary employment sectors that have benefited from the Marcellus Shale boom.

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    There were people selling safety gear, mobile office space, and drill bits. Accounting firms and banks offered pitches tailored to drillers. One company called “Drill Baby Drill” offered staffing services, but doesn’t seem to staff its own booth.

    Down the line from the “Drill Baby Drill” truck, Ben Stapelfeld manned a both promoting the well pad liner installation service he co-owns.

    This is the material drillers lay down around their sites, to keep spilt fluid from making its way off the pad and into the ground. “We’ll install basically any type of liner that a gas company would want,” Stapelfeld explained.

    The pace of drilling has slowed down as natural gas prices have dropped, but Stapelfeld said his clientele is still expanding. “We’ve grown from one company to now installing for half a dozen in just the span of nine months.”

    That isn’t the case with every industry tied to drilling. During a recent trip to Bradford County, StateImpact Pennsylvania talked to several truck drivers who haven’t worked since May, when extraction near Towanda began to slow. But at the conference, Angelo Lochetto said he’s still expecting a dramatic increase for his company, called the Thortex Group.

    Lochetto sells a plastic product that coats pipes. “Every pipe that’s laid under the ground is corrosion protected.” Business has been booming – he says natural gas drilling accounts for about a quarter of the Montgomery County company’s sales right now, and he’s hoping the share goes up to 80 percent.

    “It’s the biggest opportunity the company has ever had,” Lochetto explained.

    The conference itself was a more immediate opportunity for Lochetto. There are other companies selling pipe liners, but none of them have showed up in the exhibit hall. “No other competitors!” he crowed. “I like that.”

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