Shale Gas Extraction – Marcellus shale gas Case Study



Fracking is the process of oil and natural gas extraction from shale rock formations where large quantities of water, toxic chemicals, and sand is injected in the ground at high pressure to crack the shale rock formation and release the oil or gas (Scotchman, 2016). Hydraulic fracturing seeks to extract hydrocarbons from low permeability and poor quality reservoirs in a process that involves the injection of fluids at high pressures to fracture the shale rock formation. Fracking entails the recovery the unconventional hydrocarbons from low matrix permeability reservoirs through the creation of artificial permeable reservoirs using hydraulic fracturing of horizontal wells (Scotchman, 2016).  

Situational Analysis – Marcellus shale gas extraction

The Marcellus Shale is an area of 24,000 km2 covering a large area of Pennsylvania and West Virginia (Stedman et al., 2012). Hydraulic fracking has seen the potential of the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania being utilized by over 20 companies. The companies include Range resources Appalachia Llc which operates 960 wells, Chesapeake Appalachia Llc operating over 800 wells and Eqt Production Co and Cabot Oil & Gas Corp operating 490 and 489 wells, respectively (Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, 2018). The shale rock formation covers almost two-thirds of Pennsylvania with a depth of more than one mile and has be been estimated to up to 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. 

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Impact of the Marcellus shale gas formation project

The potential impact of the Marcellus shale gas development includes the reduction of US oil dependence and a boost in the economies of Northern Appalachia that have ravaged under low wages and economic stagnation. According to Ramsaran and Rousu, (2016), the development of Marcellus shale gas formation has led to economic benefits to areas that were destitute before the era of hydraulic fracking. This is evident through the creation of job opportunities and boosting businesses in the area. The Marcellus shale development has in the recent past received robust political support from Pennsylvania state government, albeit the environmental impact on water supplies continue to be a source of concern (Stedman et al., 2012). The hydraulic fracking at Marcellus shale production has led to concerns including the environmental impact to the neighboring communities. The Susquehanna River basin covering approximately 20, 000 square miles underlies the Marcellus shale formation, with the potential environmental impact of contaminating water resources. The project draws huge amounts of water for hydraulic fracturing from the basin and the resultant waste fluids contain toxic chemicals and may also pose the risks of exposure to elevated radioactive uranium. Fracking activities have increased the reported water contamination in the areas affecting the health of the local population and the ecosystems. The development of the Marcellus shale gas result has resulted in land use changes and clearance of forest cover estimated to be more than 28,000 acres for developing the gas infrastructure. This land use change, greenhouse gases emissions related to well pre-production and production will have a significant carbon footprint on the environment. It is estimated that the annual average emissions will reach 37 kilotons for Nox and 342 kilotons for methane (Ramsaran & Rousu, 2016). The project has also had an impact on water use as water resources are diverted from consumptive use to the hydraulic fracturing process. Public concern includes the changing landscape as land is transformed by fracking, impacting the residents belonging and sense of attachment to the place. There is also psychosocial stress emanating from the uncertainties about the potential environmental impact of the fracking in the Marcellus shale gas formation (Sangaramoorthy et al., 2016). There is the need for inclusive partnership with surrounding communities and an enhancement of institutional capacity to potentially address the psychosocial stress and disruption related to the fracking process. 

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  1. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, (2018) Operators With Active Wells In Pennsylvania. 
  2. Ramsaran, D., & Rousu, M. C. (2016). Experiencing the impact of Marcellus Shale: a case study. International Journal of Social Economics, 43(5), 517–531. 
  3. Sangaramoorthy, T., Jamison, A. M., Boyle, M. D., Payne-Sturges, D. C., Sapkota, A., Milton, D. K., & Wilson, S. M. (2016). Place-based perceptions of the impacts of fracking along the Marcellus Shale. Social Science and Medicine, 151, 27–37.
  4. Scotchman, I. C. (2016). Shale gas and fracking: exploration for unconventional hydrocarbons. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association, 127(5), 535–551. 
  5. Stedman, R. C., Jacquet, J. B., Filteau, M. R., Willits, F. K., Brasier, K. J., & McLaughlin, D. K. (2012). Environmental reviews and case studies: Marcellus shale gas development and new boomtown research: Views of New York and Pennsylvania residents. Environmental Practice
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