The Marcellus Shale
Pennsylvania is once again in the national spotlight of fossil fuel energy production. Coal extraction over the centuries helped build the nation. Drake’s well in Titusville ushered in the oil boom. This time around it’s natural gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale deposit deep beneath the surface in a large area that includes Ohio, New York, West Virginia and much of Pennsylvania. Closer to home, the entire Shenango River watershed exists above the Marcellus Shale.
This resource extraction has produced a great influx of royalty dollars to landowners and a more plentiful supply of relatively clean natural gas for consumers. But from the perspective of waterways protection, it comes at a price. The drilling technique to extract this gas requires horizontal boring into the shale deposit followed by a process called “hydraulic fracturing” or “fracking”. Fracking a single well requires millions of gallons of water, water that must be provided from our waterways. Chemicals, often unnamed, are added when this water is pumped into the ground. Much of the water will never return to the surface. The water that does return is in a degraded condition requiring treatment. The treatment that is provided is only partial, leaving water that remains degraded to be returned to our waterways.
The laws of the land are still catching up to particulars and scale of the Marcellus drilling, and how to adequately protect our waters.
Until then, you can learn more about it:
- The PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources provides a description of Marcellus Shale.
- The Geological Society of America provides a description of Utica Shale.
- The Youngstown Vindicator maintains a webpage for gas drilling related issues local to our area.
- National Geographic has an interactive presentation of drilling and fracturing a gas well.
- The Ohio Division of Natural Resources has Marcellus and Utica Shales data on its Geological Survey web page.