The Extraction of natural gas from Marcellus Shale and other subterranean deposits is shaping the future of Western PA, both economically and environmentally. Whether you are looking to buy a piece of property in an area known or suspected to sit above a Marcellus Shale deposit, already own such a property and have been approached by an energy company about leasing your rights to the underground resources or are just curious about what is happening in this area, education on the subject is crucial.
Formerly part of the equatorial, seaside swamplands that made up this region over 300 million years ago, shale formed from the decay, submersion and compression of this landscape and its living occupants over time. Yes, Pittsburgh was in the tropics. Sandy beaches became layers of sandstone, thick deposits of swamp vegetation became veins of coal, the corals and shellfish became layers of limestone and the mudflats of thick clays became shale. Eventually, the oil created from the organic matter contained within this layer of earth broke down and emitted natural gas. This gas is now trapped within the layers of Marcellus Shale and other formations almost a mile below the surface.
It was first discovered near Marcellus, NY (hence the name) and has since been located in Pennsylvania and several nearby states. Its extraction is difficult but two new drilling techniques have permitted us to remove the natural gas trapped in the shale. These are directional drilling, where the drill head it forced deep into the earth, often a mile below the surface, and then turned and a horizontal seam is drilled into the shale for as long as 5,000 feet. The other is hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”). Because fracking contains a “chemical cocktail” forced into the earth under extreme pressure and uses large amounts of water to fracture the shale, its use is highly controversial. There is concern about the insertion of the chemicals into the earth and then how to dispose of the water which contains the chemicals.
Natural gas is a fuel used for heating, cooking and power generation. It is also used as a raw material in fertilizers, cosmetics, plastics and sports equipment. IMS Cambridge Energy Research Associates estimates that there are nearly 2 trillion cubic feet of recoverably natural gas in domestic reserves – enough to power America for 100 years. The potential supply of domestic natural gas has increased 58% in the last four years because of the discovery of this gas in places like Pennsylvania. Shale gas now makes up 20% of America’s natural gas supply which is up from just 1% in 2000.
Natural gas and other resources may be beneath property that you already own or are considering purchasing. You should consult with an attorney before signing any leases or agreements with drilling companies.
Who to call if you have concerns about natural drilling in your area:
1. Emergency Line for PA Department of Environmental Protection
The PA DEP can answers questions concerning natural gas drilling regulations, and permits, water wells and other environmental issues.
2. Pennsylvania Geological Survey
The Pennsylvania Geological Survey can provide maps and other information on the location of existing oil and natural gas wells in PA.
3. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Hotline:
The EPA can answer questions on federal regulations and respond to environmental emergencies.