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Natural Gas Boomtowns

Expect More Towandas and Steubenvilles

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted February 20, 2012

One hundred and ninety-eight miles north of the Brotherly Love city of Philly sits a tiny jerkwater town named Towanda.

You probably never heard of it. And quite frankly, who would?

Towanda is a Native American name that means "burial ground.” And for the past few decades, Towanda was exactly that: a dying old industrial town that lifelong residents were fleeing as if it were on fire.

But Towanda is starting to gain quite a reputation.

You see, Towanda is a borough in the County of Bradford County in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Settled in 1784, Towanda was once known primarily for its industrial factories, which included flour, planing and silk mills, a foundry and machine shop, dye works, and manufacturers of talking machines, cut glass, toys and furniture.

The population was 4,663 in 1900 and 4,281 in 1910. As its manufacturing base left to seek cheaper labor costs, it’s population also decreased.

The most recent census report had Towanda with a population around 3,000.

However, that has changed practically overnight.

Like a herd of buffalo, a steady stream of heavy trucks and trailers move across Veterans Memorial Bridge at all hours of the day.

Walk down Main Street and you’ll find diners and cafes busting at the seams with customers.

“Hiring” signs are now the most popular advertisement in the street’s store windows.

CNN Money reported:

Hotel rooms are impossible to get – one hotel was booked through December. Rents on two-bedroom apartments have gone from $400 to $1,500 a month. The downtown is jammed with traffic, much of it tractor trailers loaded down with drilling materials and equipment. One resident counted over 100 passing his house in an hour.

Towanda is just one of the many booming towns in Bradford County. In fact, the economy is so strong in the county that Bradford has become one of the fastest growing counties in the U.S.

“The recession that hit the rest of the country passed right over us,” said Bradford County Commissioner Doug McLinko.

As you may have guessed, the boom in Bradford is fueled by natural gas and the revolution in hydraulic fracturing.

This scenario is being played out all across the nation in jerkwater towns nobody has ever heard of before.

Like Steubenville in Ohio.

Just a couple years ago, Steubenville was on life-support. Unemployment there reached 15% in 2010.

However, sitting below Steubenville is a monster resource. You see, Steubenville sits right on the epicenter of the Marcellus and Utica shale gas formations.

According to an ABC News report on Steubenville:

More than 300 new jobs have already come to the Steubenville area. And as many as 10,000 more are expected in the next three years. If jobs keep growing at this pace, every adult in Steubenville could be working by April. 

No one in Steubenville can remember the last time anyone heard of a job that paid as much as $77,000 a year coming to town, but those jobs are coming. There could be more than 200,000 of them in Ohio in the next few years.

The boom doesn't end with the drilling jobs. There were bright spots visible all over the town. A few weeks ago, Scaffidi's restaurant needed only had 25 seats. Now, there are seven times more people coming in for lunch. The boom is also expected to mean more businesses, more teachers and more hotels. Everyone seems to be cashing in.

And the good news doesn’t stop there.

Last week, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver, the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin released a report titled, "Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development."

Guess what?

The University of Texas concluded that it did not find any confirmed cases of drinking water contamination caused from pathways created by hydraulic fracturing.

Open It All Up

Since 1990 shale gas in the U.S. has grown from 1.4% to 14.3% of total gas supply. And as a result of increased supply gas prices are at a 10-year low.

Now the U.S. Department of Energy is planning for further massive increases in shale gas production by 2035, saying "This primarily reflects increased shale gas production resulting from the application of recent technological advances.”

The DOE said it expects the United States to export around 1.1 billion cubic feet of liquefied natural gas per day starting in 2016. This would make the United States a net LNG exporter by that year.

Expect more and more Towandas and Steubenvilles to pop up everywhere.

Good Investing,

Brian Hicks Signature

Brian Hicks

Brian is a founding member and President of Angel Publishing and investment director for the income and dividend newsletter The Wealth Advisory. He writes about general investment strategies for Wealth Daily and Energy & Capital. Known as the "original bull on America," Brian is also the author of the 2008 book, Profit from the Peak: The End of Oil and the Greatest Investment Event of the Century. In addition to writing about the economy, investments and politics, Brian is also a frequent guest on CNBC, Bloomberg, Fox and countless radio shows. For more on Brian, take a look at his editor's page.

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