Monday, April 12, 2010

Burgh Energy Report: Boomtown

In recent posts, I've tried to highlight the uncertainty associated with the energy economy. Uncertainty is a good word to keep in mind. Add to that volatility. Any region would do well to spread the risk. On that score, Pittsburgh excels:

The Chinese demand for metallurgical coal prompted Consol to begin branding its coal for the Chinese market earlier this year.

"China is basically coming to us" for its coal needs, he said, adding that the sale of coal for export from Washington and Greene counties and throughout Appalachia means that the region's economy can benefit for years to come.

"The last time I checked, you can't move the coal deposits and shale deposits from where they are," DeIuliis said.

China's hunger for raw materials recently produced a trade deficit in that country. That demand doesn't look like it will abate any time soon. The boomtown story isn't just about unconventional gas and the local infrastructure.

Range is now estimating its potential eventual recovery from the Marcellus at the equivalent of up to 27 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The company’s returns from Marcellus drilling have been boosted natural gas liquids produced along with gas, along with the higher prices gas brings in the northeastern U.S. market, which includes New York City. In addition, Range has hedged a sizable portion of its 2010 gas production at prices well above current market prices.

No one knows for sure where the northeastern natural gas market is headed. Most of the signs are encouraging. But looking for a boost in the regional labor pool is premature. I figure we will hear about a talent shortage before the migration rush starts. Furthermore, energy isn't the only industry impacted:

We have chosen Pittsburgh as it is the center of attention for potentially the largest play of all, the Marcellus Shale formation in the northeastern US. Covering most of Pennsylvania and stretching into five states, the Marcellus has been estimated to contain up to 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas – enough to supply the entire US demand for almost two decades.

With high-population areas like New York, New Jersey and New England just a stone’s throw away, the giant Marcellus exemplifies the opportunities available for steel and natural gas producers alike in shale plays throughout North America.

Over the next year or two, tubular steel jobs are expected to grow dramatically. I don't know for certain, but I would expect the expansion to soak up many of the unemployed in manufacturing. I wouldn't be surprised to learn about some labor shortages down the road.

Shifting energy sectors, Westinghouse continues to boom:

Westinghouse Electric Co. will retain about one-third of its space in Monroeville and keep 450 workers there for at least two more years instead of moving them to Cranberry, due to faster-than-projected growth. ...

... Westinghouse in 2007 won a giant contract from China to build four nuclear power reactors. The first is due to come on-line in 2013 under the deal, worth $9.8 billion.

In 2008 and 2009, Westinghouse landed nuclear-power contracts to build six reactors at power plants in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida -- the first in 30 years in the United States -- over the next six years or so.

"We're continuing to grow so that we can meet the increased demand for electricity in the years to come," said Tony Greco, senior vice president of human resources. "It's essential that we have the necessary staffing to support our employees."

Across the board, Pittsburgh's energy economy is growing. Keep that in mind as you digest today's round of optimistic economic news.

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