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In an ever-changing energy dependent world, new fossil fuel sources are becoming increasingly rare. When a new deposit is found, it can have immediate effects on the surrounding economy and United States energy consumption as companies jump at the bit to attain drilling permits. A recently discovered natural gas source is the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale, which has a large amount of trapped natural gas. The Pennsylvania Marcellus shale is part of the large Marcellus Formation, which extends from Ohio through Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York. Although production was started back in the early 2000’s, the majority of reserves, are untapped and could potentially be enough to supply US demand for fourteen years.
This is a photograph of the Marcellus and Devonian Shale. The orange lines represent the depth of the shale. Source: http://ruins.files.wordpress.com/2009/05/marcellus-shale-depth-map.gif The Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Reserve formation is part of a large shale field, which extends through Ohio, New York, and West Virginia. The shale holds a large amount of natural gas, which has led to the movement by many companies to attain drilling permits.
This is an illustration representing the depth of natural gas with the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale. The blues and reds represent larger amounts of natural gas, while the greens and yellows represent smaller amounts of natural gas. Source: http://www.swogg.org/images/Map_of_Marcellus_Shale.png The strong interest of energy companies is also due to the fact the shale location is relatively close to high-demand natural gas markets along the East Coast. There are limestone layers within the Marcellus Shale, which have trapped natural gas within the formations. The gas is formed from the decomposition of organic materials and the very high pressure and high temperatures that exist this far under ground. Natural gas is literally kept in place in the shale pores by surrounding rock. As of April 2009, the Department of Energy has estimated that the entire Marcellus may contain as much as 262 trillion cubic feet of Natural Gas which would be enough to supply United States demand for about fourteen years. Other estimates have varied. The recovery rate however is relatively low due to the fact that the natural gas reserves are located well below the earth’s surface. Historically, drilling for natural gas involved drilling a well vertically into the earth. Since natural gas deposits usually occur in vertical rock fractures, this was highly a guessing-game. In 2005, an energy company called Range Resources employed a type of vertical drilling known as vertical drilling at the Marcellus Shale. This is a relatively new drilling technique where drilling starts in the vertical, and then continues in the horizontal. This type of drilling however, does cost a lot more.
Vertical drilling is paired with a technique called hydraulic fracturing, or simply “hydrofracking” in industry slogan. After a well is drilled in the shale, large amounts of water and sand are pumped into the well to force fracture the shale. “Hydrofracking”, forces the natural gas into the newly formed fractures resulting in more accessible natural gas and a higher recovery rate. This creates an environmental problem however, because the contaminated water is pumped back to the surface and has to be stored. There is a debate over how the water should be stored.
This is an image illustrating the difference between conventional vertical drilling. The horizontal drilling is used to tap the horizontal shale deposits. Source: http://www.dteenergy.com/images/gasDrilling.jpg The Marcellus Shale ranks number one as the fastest growing natural gas production region in the United States. Sixty-percent of this area is within the state of Pennsylvania. Natural gas production from the Marcellus Shale has positive impacts on Pennsylvania’s economy. In 2008, natural gas production had a direct impact of $2.3 billion on Pennsylvania’s economy including $240 million in local and state tax revenue, while also creating over 29,000 new jobs. These values will likely increase substantially in 2010, according to an economic study performed by the Pennsylvania State University for the Marcellus Shale Committee and the Pennsylvania House Natural Gas Caucus. This study predicts that in 2010 alone, natural gas production in Pennsylvania will generate $14 billion for the state’s economy, including $800 million in local and state taxes, and over 98,000 new jobs. There are environmental skeptics surrounding the Marcellus Shale debate as well. Part of the extraction process involving the infiltration of millions of gallons of water into
a natural gas well does not sit well with many. The water is used in the hydraulicfracturing process of the drilling to break up the shale to allow for a greater rate of return of natural gas. The main problem stems from what do to with this amount of wastewater, after the drilling has commenced. It has to go somewhere. There is however, research being conducted over the proper way to dispose of the wastewater. Range Resources is able to recycle this water, while other companies are bringing it to state or federal regulated waste disposal facilities. To further discuss and resolve environmental issues surrounding natural gas drilling in the Marcellus, both government representatives as well as industry professionals have formed the Marcellus Shale Coalition. The Marcellus Shale Coalition’s goal is to find the best way to drill in the Marcellus while minimizing the environmental impacts. This not-for-profit coalition, has a website titled, pamarcellus.com. The Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale has a lot of drilling potential. There are certainly strong economic benefits to drilling. However there are also environmental issues surrounding the drilling process. In terms of a cost-benefit analysis, economic benefits outweigh environmental costs.
Andrew Maykuth. "The sudden emergence of the shale-gas frenzy. " McClatchy - Tribune Business News 31 January 2010 ABI/INFORM Dateline Elwin Green. "UNDERGROUND GOLD POTENTIAL FOR NATURAL GAS LOCKED IN THE MARCELLUS SHALE HAS COMPANIES RUSHING TO CASH IN. " Pittsburgh Post - Gazette 6 Dec. 2009,ProQuest National Newspapers Premier Fair, Henry J. Hancock and the Marcellus Shale. Vol. 1. New York: Columbia University, 2009. 1-34. 1 vols. Print. "Job Hunt: Shale, the New American Gold Rush." Foxnews. N.p., 5 Jan. 2010. Web. 12 Feb. 2010. <http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,581996,00.html>. "Marcellus Shale Coalition; The Marcellus Shale Coalition Issues Statement Regarding Support for Responsible Natural Gas Development in Pennsylvania. " Energy Business Journal 1 Jan. 2010: Sciences Module Meilton, Roger B. Gas Leasing: The Marcellus Shale "Gold Rush" and it's Impact on Pennsylvania. Vol. 1. Mechanicsburg, PA: Pennsylvania Bar Institute, 2008. 1-205. 1 vols. Print. Natural Gas Tapping Pennsylvania's Potential. Marcellus Shale Coalition, 2009. Web. 13 Feb. 2010. <http://www.pamarcellus.com/>. Oilshalegas.com. Oilshalegas.com, 2008. Web. 1 Mar. 2010. <http://oilshalegas.com/marcellusshale.html>. "Penn State Study: Marcellus Shale Development Expected to Create 98,000 Pennsylvania Jobs by 2010, $14.17 Billion Impact :Proposed Severance Tax Would Hurt Jobs, Investment, and Result in $1.4 Billion in Less State and Local Tax Revenue;. " PR Newswire 27 July 2009 ABI/INFORM Dateline, ProQuest. Web. 11 Feb. 2010.
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