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Marcellus Shale: Natural Gas Energy

The extraction of natural gas in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale formation is running at a fast pace. New data and the recent realization of this vast energy resource have escalated the gas drilling industry in Pennsylvania. In response, drilling techniques have caused much public concern.

The dark sedimentary rock, named after a visible dark shale outcrop in the town of Marcellus, New York, underlies much of the Appalachian Basin. It covers more than two-thirds of Pennsylvania and has a depth from surface level to more than a mile below ground. The location is close to metropolitan areas on the east coast, providing an ideal market. Marcellus Shale is an exceptional energy resource for natural gas because it is rich in organic content, signifying substantial gas production. An estimate for the amount of natural gas that can be captured from Marcellus Shale ranges from 50 to 500 trillion cubic feet. PA currently has an annual natural gas consumption rate of 750 million cubic feet (EIA: Official Statistics). This reservoir could supply Pennsylvania with gas energy for seemingly endless years and the U.S. for numerous years. A recent study states: "Fully developed, the Marcellus Shale has the potential to be the second largest natural gas field in the world..." (The Economic Impacts of the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Play: An Update, Pennsylvania State University, 5/24/2010).

New extraction technologies have also made the natural gas more accessible. The PA Department of Environmental Protection estimates the industry will apply for 5,200 drilling permits in 2010 (U.S. Geological Survey, May, 2010). As a comparison, in 2005 only 4 drilling permits were issued. New data on the natural gas reserves and new technologies have made Marcellus Shale a prime energy resource. There has been substantial concern and opposition to drilling procedures with regard to environmental, health and safety issues, including water contamination. The industry's hydraulic fracturing technique and its effect on ground and surface water is a major contention. Tapping the rich natural gas reserves in Marcellus Shale poses a question and challenge: can this immense energy resource be extracted while protecting our water resources and natural environments?

Lesson Plans and Resource Guide:

Coordinator: Eric Epstein
Education Development and Research: Diane Little
Principal Contributors: Diane Little
Web Support: Tom Owad
Download: Marcellus Shale - Natural Gas Energy: Lesson Plans and Resource Guide

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