I attended last week the first ShaleComm conference in Pittsburgh, devoted to companies providing state of the art communications to the gas fields and the pipeline system. This was of particular interest in Pennsylvania because of the remoteness of the Marcellus Shale gas fields. As I listened to attendees, panelists and exhibitors, it seemed that the shale gas industry may have an opportunity to solve its communications issues and provide much-needed services to rural Pennsylvanians.
Pennsylvania’s Broadband Plan shows how rural areas in Pennsylvania are generally lacking ubiquitous broadband communications, wired and wireless. One industry insider noted that only 3 to 4% of his companies gas field operations are covered by broadband wireless communications. And this is unlikely to change soon. The major wireless service providers are occupied with expensive 4G upgrades, not extending new service to Pennsylvania’s rural population.
Meanwhile, the gas production and pipeline industry can’t wait. Pressing operational and security requirements demand improvements in field communications. Satellite provides a quick solution. But issues of latency, reliability, bandwidth, and cost suggest it is not a permanent solution.
Fortunately, on the heels of extensive build out of cellular and PCS networks there is considerable expertise in Pennsylvania; and due to the aggregation of private and even Commonwealth tower assets there are significant vertical resources that could be used or improved. This could contribute to a rapid deployment of dedicated communications systems to serve the gas fields. There are interested stakeholders in the public and private sectors. It would be interesting if the inevitable gas industry communications build out incorporated a design that would also benefit the communications needs of the rural communities in which they are situated. A possible win-win.