Engineer Explains Why Hydraulic Fracturing in the Marcellus Shale is Safe

The Energy Collective (Feb 23)
Shale Gas and Drinking Water

In an article posted on The Energy Collective website, Geoff Styles, who has a degree in chemical engineering (U.C. Davis) and worked for Texaco for 22 years, in addition to working for NASA, explores just what hydraulic fracturing is, how it’s done, and why it’s safe, particularly in the Marcellus Shale deposit. It is an extremely well written and enlightening article—please read it!

Here is a brief extract:

[F]or the purposes of this discussion let’s take a quick look at one of the shale regions at the heart of this controversy, the Marcellus Shale in the Appalachian region of New York, Pennsylvania and the Virginias. In the course of my research I ran across a handy document on groundwater from Penn State. Aside from surface water (lakes, rivers and streams), it identifies the various aquifers in Pennsylvania by type in Figure 4. The key fact from the perspective of fracking safety is that the deepest of these aquifers lies no more than about 500 ft. below the surface, and typically less than a couple of hundred feet down. By contrast, the Marcellus Shale is found thousands of feet down–in many areas more than a mile below-ground–with a thickness of 250 feet or less. In addition, the gas-bearing layers are sealed in by impermeable rock, or the gas would eventually have migrated somewhere else. In other words, the shale gas reservoirs are isolated by geology and depth from the shallower layers where our underground drinking water is found.

He covers many other issues, including the relatively SMALL amount of water used to frack a well with horizontal drilling—compared with water used in a “traditional” oil or gas well. And how the aquifer is protected when the drilling begins, before any water and chemicals are pumped into the well.

Bottom line?

Thus, whether intentionally or as a result of a basic misunderstanding of how this technology works, we are being presented with a false dichotomy concerning shale gas and fracking. The real choice here isn’t between energy and drinking water, as critics imply, but between tapping an abundant source of lower-emission domestic energy and what looked like a perpetually-increasing reliance on imported natural gas just a few years ago.

Well said Mr. Styles. Well said.

  • paulspod

    “Our” DEC and NY state government should provide a solid timeline for Marcellus Drilling in NY state. Enough differals and stalling. The public comment window has been closed for two months.

    Perhaps only litigation will light a fire under them to make decisions. There are already enough
    regulations regarding polluting aquifers.
    Property drilling and exploration to minerals, gas and other rights belong to the landowner not the State.

  • Jim

    Thanks paulspod. The draft regulations from the DEC seemed restrictive, but something drilling companies could live with. I agree with you. It’s gone from “let’s be careful” to “let’s see how long we can stall it in hopes of killing it altogether” which is the agenda of the anti-drillers. It’s time to drill.

  • Thanks for the mention of The Energy Collective, Jim. Geoff is a great addition to our site and one of our most read and most discuss authors.

  • Jim

    [email protected]: You’re quite welcome! I can see why Geoff is a great addition. Kudos to him, and to your excellent site.

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