Marcellus Shale producers may bemoan the low price of natural gas, but production marches forward.
In the first half of this year, companies broke another record and produced 1.4 trillion cubic feet of gas, according to new data released by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection on Friday.
That's double what was reported during the same time last year, and more than three times the bounty of 2011's first six months.
If market conditions played a role in tempering that growth, it might be hard to imagine what would have happened if gas prices and infrastructure deficits weren't an issue. Industry sources estimate there are about 1,000 wells that have been completed and are awaiting pipeline connections.
Three years ago, the price of natural gas at the Henry Hub, a distribution center that serves as a benchmark for gas, averaged $4.27 per million British thermal units. In the first six months of this year, it averaged $3.75 -- and that's after a significant rebound from a deep valley during much of last year. Prices tanked below $2 in April 2012.
The number of natural gas rigs drilling new wells in Pennsylvania is half what it was three years ago. Yet, the gas keeps on coming. Operators have gotten more efficient at drilling Marcellus wells, so fewer rigs are needed.
In southwestern Pennsylvania alone, the increase from last year is even more stark. Operators reported 358 billion cubic feet of gas production for the first half of the year in the region, a 67 percent jump from the same time last year.
Greene County was most prolific, followed by Washington, then Westmoreland, whose production actually decreased from the last reporting period.
Gas volumes continued to grow in Fayette, Butler and Allegheny counties.
Meanwhile, Texas-based Range, whose regional headquarters is in Southpointe, has ramped up production in Lycoming County.
Statewide, Oklahoma-based Chesapeake Energy Corp. widened its production lead over all other operators. It reported 305 billion cubic feet of gas so far this year. Cabot Oil and Gas, which is based in Texas, came in second with 182 bcf.
Oil and natural gas liquids also continued to rise.
The vast majority of liquids, which are more valuable when sold separately from the gas, are extracted from wells in southwestern Pennsylvania, with Washington County maintaining its rank as the biggest producer. Of the nearly 1.27 million barrels of liquids reported during the first six months this year, 1.26 million came from Washington wells.
But liquids production is also on the rise in Butler, McKean and Crawford counties.