Shale Gas: Industry’s Prospects Grow Bigger By The Day

Potter County Today

drarthur1Just as the region is beginning to come to terms with the dawning rush on natural gas resources locked up some 7,000 feet below the ground in Marcellus Shale comes word that there’s probably even more gas in other shale formations. Scientists are forecasting that gas extraction in many counties, including Potter, could go on for more than a half-century.

Details were spelled out on Thursday by Mike Arthur (left), professor of geosciences and co-director of the Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research. Among those participating in Dr. Arthur’s internet-based seminar were Curt Weinhold and Paul Heimel from the Public Education Committee of the Potter County Natural Gas Task Force.

Citing early results from companies drilling in the Marcellus Shale, Arthur said the formation that underlies much of Pennsylvania and portions of West Virginia, Ohio and New York apparently dwarfs other shale “plays” being tapped by the gas industry. “The Marcellus is a gas giant,” he emphasized. “It is second only to the Middle East in contained energy.”

What’s more, Dr. Arthur said, there are other shale formations both above and beyond the Marcellus field that also contain rich deposits of gas. In each case, that gas can be accessed and brought to the surface through hydraulic fracturing, a tested technology that has raised concern among environmentalists and some government agencies due to its use of vast water resources and chemical additives.

shaleformation“Just imagine if some of these other shale (formations) come on line,” Arthur said. “Once the leases are all set and the infrastructure is in place, it becomes more economical to drill to these other shale targets from the same pads.”

Marcellus Shale drilling permits from the Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) are rising quickly, as predicted, to 2,800 in 2010 alone as of late November, and the trend will continue, Dr. Arthur said.

He addressed issues related to shale gas development’s potential impact on water resources. Concerns about the industry’s consumption of water having a significant impact on supplies are unfounded, Arthur noted. He’s similarly confident that contaminated water injected deep underground will not migrate to fresh water sources due to geologic barriers and casing.

However, Dr. Arthur said that water sources could be threatened by surface spills or leakage in “intervening horizons” between the surface and the shale. If drillers use best practices to thoroughly cement the well in these intervening horizons and/or apply techniques to vent any escaping gas, they can reduce the risk of gas migration, he added. Arthur said drilling rules may have to be tightened to address the issues and regulators are currently debating the issue.

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