Understanding Shale Gas Mining

Shale gas development has been revolutionized in the past ten years by fairly recent events. Geologists have known for some time about large deposits of natural gas in areas of the Northeastern United States. However, antiquated methods of extracting this resource made mining these areas financially unfeasible. These huge shale deposits are known as the Marcellus and the Utica Plays, named for the areas in which they originate. They formed thousands of years ago in the shale sedimentary layers deep under the mountainous regions of New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio. Recent technological advances in drilling methods have finally allowed this vein to be tapped. The success of this harvesting method, called hydrofracturing, in the Barnett Shale deposit in North Central Texas made it possible to bring the technology to gas-rich shale deposits in other regions.

Shale gasAn illustration of shale gas compared to other types of gas deposits.
Image Credit: www.wikipedia.org

Why is This Such a Big Deal?
This discovery has re-energized the natural gas industry in the United States. Finding new sources of clean domestic fuel drives down the price of this resource and allows the United States to lessen it’s dependance on foreign oil for fuel. It also brings the supply closer to demand. Previously, the cost of transportation to the Northeast region made the price of natural gas prohibitive to many in an area that relies on fossil fuels for heat during the cold winter months. The ability to mine this resource in the region will lower the cost considerably.

Is Shale Gas Mining Safe?
Industry-wide protocols and best-practices in the exploration and harvesting of natural gas greatly reduce the risk of methane leaks and other environmental pollution. Proper industry regulation and oversight to ensure that companies involved in the exploration and production of shale gas, along with full disclosure of hydrofracturing methods, should ease dissent from some residents and environmental groups. The benefits of natural gas over coal and oil, including lowering CO2 emissions, makes the positive aspects of this practice outweigh any possible negatives.

How We Benefit From Shale Gas Mining
A large supply of natural gas from these regions will have a number of benefits, nationally and globally. Natural gas is a safe, clean-burning source of fuel for cooking and heating. Increased supply means a drop in the cost, making it more affordable. That means less reliance on coal and oil, and by extension, less air pollution. It also helps the United States become less dependent on foreign fuel imports, and helps us to become more competitive in the global natural gas market. Bringing natural gas exploration, extraction, and production to the Northeast also helps the economy in areas that have been hard hit. Currently, shale gas is in the first phase of a three-phase exploration and production, or E & P schedule, which consists of pre-drilling, drilling, and production. A recent report by the Pennsylvania Statewide Marcellus Shale Workforce Needs Assessment estimated that phase one jobs account for 98 percent of current shale gas E & P employment market. Once this phase is completed, the drilling phase will begin, and it will last for an estimated 10 – 70 years, dependent on fluctuations in price, the economy, and further technological developments during that time-frame.

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