WYSOX -

So far, Marcellus Shale gas production has generated $160 million in royalties for land owners in Bradford County, a Penn State Extension educator said at a recent public meeting in Wysox Township.

And the number of royalty recipients will continue to grow, since there have been 1,856 gas wells drilled in the county, but only 512 of those wells are producing gas commercially, said agronomy educator Mark Madden of Penn State Extension.

In addition to the wells that have been built, many additional permits have been issued for wells that have yet to be constructed or are in the process of being developed, he said.

Land owners, including farmers, need to make sure they are not the victims of unscrupulous people who want to separate them from their money, and they may also need to plan financially for how to pass royalty revenue to their descendants, he said.

The meeting, which was hosted by state Sen. Gene Yaw and took place at the Wysox Fire Hall, focused on agriculture issues. The meeting was an opportunity for the approximately 50 people in attendance to hear about recent developments that relate to agriculture and to ask questions and raise concerns related to agriculture. Among those who participated in the meeting was state Rep. Tina Pickett.

Recently, there has been a downturn in the pace of drilling locally as gas companies have diverted their drilling resources to western Pennsylvania and Ohio, where they can produce natural gas liquids and oil, which is "much more attractive economically" for them to do at this time, he said. The local Marcellus Shale play is also in competition for drilling resources with other shale plays in other regions of the country that can produce wet gas, he said.

Still, Bradford County is still in a good location for gas drilling, in terms of the demand for the gas, he said.

"The gas is very prolific here, by most accounts," Madden said. "We are very close to the Eastern seaboard," where there is a lot of demand for gas, he said.

Natural gas has been a growing source of fuel in electric power plants, he said. In the United States, the amount of electricity generated from natural gas is now roughly equivalent to the amount of electricity generated from coal, he said.

Bradford County Conservation District Manager Mike Lovegreen said some local farmers need to do more to reduce the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that are deposited by the Susquehanna River in the Chesapeake Bay, or the county could conceivably face some serious consequences.

The Environmental Protection Agency has designated the bay as an impaired water body and has set limits on the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that can be deposited in the bay, Lovegreen said.

Due to the bay's condition, each state in the Susquehanna River Basin, including Pennsylvania, was required to develop a watershed implementation plan, which must be approved by the EPA, showing how it would reduce the pollutants into the Chesapeake Bay.

"A lot of the decrease in Pennsylvania was tied to agriculture," Lovegreen said, explaining Pennsylvania's watershed implementation plan. "Pennsylvania said, 'We have enough regulations in place. We'll make sure everyone is in compliance with the regulations, and that should take care of everything.'"

But some local farmers lack a manure management plan and a conservation plan, which, under state law, they have been required to have in place and which would help limit the discharge of nitrogen, phosphorus, tillage and other disturbed soil into streams, said Tony Liguori, an agricultural team leader with the Bradford County Conservation District.

The EPA and Pennsylvania's water implementation plan have both set timetables for reducing the pollutants into the bay,

Among the possible consequences of not meeting the pollutant reductions for the Chesapeake Bay is that local sewage treatment plants would have to undergo additional, expensive modifications to reduce their discharges, and there could be a lower threshold of animals on a farm that would trigger the designation of that farm as a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), Lovegreen said.

"I imagine a fair number" of farmers in Bradford County do not have the required plans in place, Liguori said.

He said the Bradford County Conservation District would be happy to work with farmers to help them develop the required plans.

Yaw said he has organized an Oct. 4 meeting in Harrisburg of state officials and companies that supply natural gas, in an effort to further the goal of bringing cheap natural gas as a fuel source to more homes in rural sections of Pennsylvania.

At the meeting, state officials will be asking gas companies what the state needs to do to encourage the creation of more gas distribution lines in rural sections of the state, he said.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.