Even critics of gas drilling should accept that it isn't going away, said the head of one leading Pennsylvania environmental group.
"We should realize by now this is not going to be a short play. It's going to be here, probably for generations, because it's so productive," said George Jugovic Jr., president of PennFuture.
That's a mixed blessing for environmental groups, Jugovic said.
"It lengthens the horizon. It means that we have time to get it right because they're not going to be in here and out," Jugovic said of drilling companies, yet "at same time that it raises the imperative of getting our regulations in order."
Ironically, the vast production coming out of Marcellus wells in Pennsylvania and West Virginia may have given some breathing room to New York, where residents, government officials and gas drillers are engaged in an extended debate over whether to allow the new gas production method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fracking is under moratorium in New York until the debate is resolved.
Hydraulic fracturing has made it possible to tap into deep reserves of oil and gas but has also raised concerns about pollution. Large volumes of water, along with sand and hazardous chemicals, are injected underground to break rock apart and free the oil and gas.
Regulators contend that overall, water and air pollution problems are rare, but environmental groups and some scientists say there hasn't been enough research on those issues. The industry and many federal and state officials say the practice is safe when done properly, and many rules on air pollution and disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking are being strengthened.
"This excess production has really taken the pressure off New York's moratorium. It's given them more time" to decide whether to allow drilling, Jugovic said.
Nikhanj said that strictly from a market standpoint, New York's share of the Marcellus may not matter.
The talk of a continued boom had one energy expert urging caution.
"Sounds hopeful for the local economy, but the energy business has always been boom-and-bust, so long-term predictions are pretty risky," Carnegie Mellon University professor Jay Apt wrote in an email.
"Perhaps we will get lucky," Apt wrote, but added that because Pennsylvania doesn't directly tax gas output or deposit some of the proceeds of its fee into a trust fund, the Marcellus benefits will run out one day. That's in contrast with Alaska, where residents "get an annuity check from the Permanent Fund set up with their severance tax."
The S&P report is called "How The Marcellus Shale Is Changing The Dynamics Of The U.S. Energy Industry."