Almost a century ago, experts predicted the decline of natural gas production

Pennsylvania and the Marcellus Shale may be synonymous these days, but the Keystone State is no stranger to oil and natural gas drilling, going back to the first commercial oil well drilled in Titusville in 1859. Here, we‘‍ll take a look back at Pennsylvania’‍s long history of energy production from oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear and renewables.  


In 1920, a correspondent for The Gas Age, a digest for the natural gas industry, summarized national gas production data like this:

"The peak of the production of natural gas in this country was doubtless reached in 1917."

If there's one thing that separates the modern natural gas rush from the countless waves of excitement over the past 150 years, it's predictions like that. Now we can get natural gas from shale, from tight sands, from miles under the ocean. That's not to say natural gas isn't finite. It's just that it's finality isn't top of mind right now.

Reading through gas journals of the early part of the 20th Century, the attitude is very different. Scientists and businessmen feared the end of gas supplies was near. They bemoaned low gas prices that "make waste negligible."

"This fuel, which is practically unexcelled in all its uses, has always been sold at a low price because its supply has plentiful, and its low price has, in turn, make its consumers careless in its use, so that the history of its utilization is a history of years of appalling waste," the same article declared.

In 1918, by the way, that price was between 30 and 40 cents per thousand cubic feet. Last year, it was around $3.75.

People worried that gas was being needlessly vented and wasted at the wellhead and in homes. All this was back when the U.S. was not only the leading producer of natural gas, as it has once again become in 2012, but produced 95 percent of the world's supplies of the fuel. And within the U.S., West Virginia led the country in gas production, followed by Pennsylvania.

Today, or rather in 2012, the latest year available from the Energy Information Administration, Texas and Louisiana lead the pack, with Pennsylvania in third place.

As for production, in 1918, about 721 billion cubic feet flowed out of gas wells in the U.S., with more than half of that going towards making natural gasoline. Last year, producers made that much in the first 11 days.

Anya Litvak: or 412-263-1455.

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