By Zach Burkhart
Marcellus Shale is a geologic formation containing natural gas that stretches across much of the Eastern U.S., from New York to Tennessee. It has been a topic of hot debate over the past few years and continues to be a point of contention between landowners, governments, institutions, and private companies, even earning the attention of President Obama in his 2012 State of the Union speech. While geologists have known of the Marcellus Shale for years, early estimates of the amount of natural gas contained within it were fairly low. However, the use of the hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) drilling technique has dramatically increased the amount of natural gas that is recoverable (Geology.com). Current estimates suggest that reserves in the Marcellus Shale could meet U.S. energy demand for six years (Buurma, 2012). Since natural gas is considered a relatively clean source of energy, producing only about half the carbon dioxide of coal (Fischetti, 2010), one might think that environmentalists would support the extraction and use of natural gas whole heartedly. However, the process of hydrofracking has been highly criticized. Natural gas movement through shale formations occurs mostly through cracks in the rock called joints; therefore a well that intersects these joints produces the most natural gas. Traditionally, gas wells were drilled vertically into the rock, but the joints in the Marcellus Shale tend to run vertically, so traditional, vertical wells would intersect very few joints and hence produce little gas. Hydrofracking works by drilling a vertical well down to the shale layer and then drilling horizontally into the shale. The fracturing part of the hydrofracking involves pumping a high-pressure gel down into the well with enough force to fracture the rock and release the natural gas trapped inside (Geology.com). Several environmental concerns over the hydrofracking process have arisen, especially over the issue of the...
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