Sample Geology Paper on Marcellus Shale Drilling

Marcellus Shale Drilling

An underground layer of organic rock, the Marcellus Shale extends to Southern New York and Pennsylvania from the West Virginia and Ohio regions, deep below the earth’s surface. This layer of below surface organic material has interested gas companies for decades with its abundant gas reserves. However, technological impediments have hampered their capability to exploit the resource. Besides its large reservoir, its location is also seemingly attractive as it borders an attractive market for its resource along the Eastern Coast of the U.S. The name the Marcellus Shale is derived from the village of Marcellus in New York, where an outcrop of the rock is documented. Historically, the deposition of this below surface layer is placed at approximately 400 million years ago, with its classification falling under the Hamilton group. The shale layer overlies limestone (Onondaga Formation limestone) and has a thickness of between 0 feet to 9000 feet.

Despite having the predominant shale being of the darker shade, the variation in sea level during deposition resulted in interbred limes stone and lighter shale lithology. Besides being reservoirs of natural gas, the shale served the region where it occurs economically through the provision of iron ore. In addition, the black shale have a bituminous potential, but due to their age are lacking in coal (bituminous) formed from plant decomposition and compaction. However, due to having pyrite and uranium, as well as being easily erodible, it becomes a potential environmental hazard (Harper, 1-6).

Despite its previous impervious nature, technological developments in the Hydrofracking technique have provided means to mining the gas reservoirs but have not addressed the potential risks this mining poses. Although the technique of fracking has been utilized in drilling for decades, its magnitude has increased exceptionally. This method that is employed in the drilling of gas wells through shale rock utilizes high-pressure water, mixed with chemicals and sand as the primary source of force to fracture the rocks. In other instances, the procedure may incorporate other base fluids in place of water. Concerning the effects, both the drilling of natural gas and the procedure of fracking have detrimental impacts on the air, water, and land (Harper 6;Hoffman; Nrdc; Shale Stuff; Smit).

Concerning air, natural gas leakages have the potential to release greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere despite being the cleanest of the fossil fuels. The consequence natural gas mining has to atmospheric temperatures is significantly linked to its primary component, methane. In comparison to carbon dioxide, methane is capable of retaining at least 25 times more atmospheric heat, and as such is a much more potent greenhouse gas. In addition, to the overall release of pollutant gas through the process of drilling, waste deposition, equipment transportation, and well construction operations all have the pollution potential. These activities lead to the release of dust, smoke, smog, toluene, nitrogen and sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, toluene, metal, and formaldehyde. The presence of these toxic pollutants in the air at fraklling sites has been shown by studies on air quality. Such contaminants have been documented with a potential to cause diseases such as cancer and nervous and tracheal damage, in cases of human exposure. For instance exposure to crystalline silica leads to the development of the preventable yet incurable silicosis. These various pollution scenarios correlate to different stages of drilling, as each stage is synonymous with at least one form of air pollution (Hoffman; Nrdc; Shale Stuff; Smit).

With regard to water pollution, the drilling mud is a concoction of chemicals that are hazardous to the environment. In addition to this, once it has performed the drilling, the mud contains a number of different carcinogens, brine water, natural radioactive compounds and heavy metals. This toxic pollutant is produced by the gallons from every well and has the potential for ground water and aquifer pollution. In addition, to its pollination capacity, the water used in this process cannot be returned to its source due it toxicity level. This aspect results in the requirement for the treatment of the same for decontamination, a process whose efficiency cannot be determined due to the substances contained in the fluid. With regard to aquifer contamination, the encasing of the drilling pipe with cement as a precautionary measure is practiced. However, the BP Gulf blowout is a vivid example of the effects of faults in the design of the cement encasing (Hoffman; Nrdc; Shale Stuff; Smit).

Finally, drilling the Marcellus shale poses a threat to the sustainability of both farm and forest land. Concerning farmland the transportation of heavy equipment that requires the use of heavy vehicles results in the development of hard pans. These hardpans have the capability of hampering the agricultural productivity of land for years due to the weight of axle loads. Secondly, due to the requirement of access roads to the drilling site, Marcellus shale drilling may result in the felling of numerous trees. In an age of profitability at all costs, many drilling companies employ mischievous wording and phraseology to outwit land owners and escape the responsibility of land restoration. Also, deep gas drilling results in the development of induced seismic events, with a magnitude of 5.2 on the Richter scale (Hoffman; Nrdc; Shale Stuff; Smit).


Works Cited

Harper, John A.  Pennsylvania Geology. Middletown, PA; VOL. 38, NO. 1: Bureau of Topographic and Geologic Survey, 2016. Print.

Hoffman, Joe. “Potential Health And Environmental Effects Of Hydrofracking In The Williston Basin, Montana”. Case Studies. N.p., 2016. Web. 3 Mar. 2016.,. “Natural Gas Drilling: Impacts Of Fracking On Health, Water | NRDC”. N.p., 2016. Web. 3 Mar. 2016.

Shale Stuff,. “Environmental Impact”. Shale Industry News and Shale Information. N.p., 2012. Web. 7 Mar. 2016.

Smit, Debra D. “What’s The Impact Of The Marcellus Shale On Our Environment?”. Pop City. N.p., 2010. Web. 7 Mar. 2016.