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Marcellus Shale as a Gas ’Supergiant’ Essay

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Updated: Aug 12th, 2019


A couple of years back Marcellus, the Devonian black shale located in Appalachian Basin, was not popular to geologists exploring the Basin for oil and gas because of radioactive nature. However, a handful of these geologists speculated about the potential of Marcellus as a ‘supergiant’ in terms of gas supply.

They were disheartened by the initial minute quantities produced from the drilled wells expensive process as well. However, a recent geophysical study in 2002 by United States Survey revealed approximately 1.9 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered oil and gas that is projected to serve the locals for a span of approximately 100 years under the current consumption rate.

The carbonaceous shale covers much of the undersurfaces of “, , and ” (Citizens Guide to Marcellus Shale 1). Given the richness in resources in the Marcellus region, the resources were not fully exploited till recently when progress in drilling technology rejuvenated the interests of a host of drilling companies.

The latest technology, a cost-effective technology helped the companies realize huge profits. As a consequence, a robust of activities has seen different stakeholders including the “land owners and the area residents raise alarm over the extraction, drilling and transportation of the gas” (Citizens guide to Marcellus Shale 2).

From land pollution, water to air pollution there is an imminent danger that man is exposed to due to the effects exploitation of the gas. Apart from man, wildlife as well as aquatics faces the looming danger from the extraction of gas as evident in other areas that have ventured in gas mining. As a result, the environment is at the threshold of imbalance.

Considering all these issues, we are left speculating on the extent of the imminent danger that the exploitation of the gas has in store for the people of Marcellus. In this essay, I will argue is: how are the different stakeholders prepared to face the expected challenges that lay ahead of them?

In a nutshell, the literature that follows focuses on the negative impacts of the project to the environment and, the laws framed by the stakeholders to mitigate the effects of natural gas extraction to the environment.

The impacts of natural gas exploitation to the environment and stake holders

On narrowing down to the extraction process, it is understood that the process consumes a lot of water; over a million gallons rendering the commodity scarce for animals as well as for human consumption. After processing, the effluent is normally released to rivers and streams contaminating the aquatic ecosystem.

The wildlife is not spared the brunt either; they become victims after the consumption of the contaminated water. Furthermore, the looming danger that the people of Marcellus expect from the project include deforestation, noise pollution and, growth of invasive species to aesthetic loss of land. On a broader perspective, the immense harm imposed on flora and fauna by the effluents from the drilling companies based in other areas outside Marcellus is a sure indicator of what awaits the people of the region.

To begin with, the extraction process consumes a lot of water; over a million gallons are used in exposing man and his environs to the dangers of water scarcity (Kobell 4). The water which is normally drawn from the available water bodies (e.g., rivers) causes a reduction in the water volumes from these sources causing alteration in water temperatures (Kobell 3).

This affects the biological functioning of aquatics. The reduced water levels also reduce the amount of power produced at geothermal stations since they directly affect the rate of rotation of the turbines (Kobell 3).

Due to the drilling process, water quality has worsened as at one and the same time thousands of gallons were sucked up. It should be mentioned that “451 companies applied to drill” (Kobell 4) in Pennsylvania. Dunkard Creek has always been considered as a quality and producing warm-water fishery, but the increase of solids and chlorides which are poured into the water “from mine-water treatment facilities at Consol Energy’s Blacksville No. 2 deep mine and its Loveridge Mine in West Virginia” (Hopey 29) have declined water quality.

The rate of encroachment in the forest land by the drilling project is also a course of concern for the residents of Marcellus Shale. Since the inception of the of the natural gas project, there has been extended deforestation on the land.

This is attributed to the fact that mining project involves the clearing of land, sinking of wells, the construction of feeder roads and pipelines meant to cater for the efficiency of the whole operation.

This is a big blow to the whole forest ecosystem, which heavily relies on the growth of vegetation for its existence. The different species of wild creatures are threatened as a result. The once upon a time huge forest land of Pennsylvania, both private and public have been disjointed causing separation of species populations and above all; destroying their habitat (Kobell 5).

One major challenge the residents of Marcellus encounter on a daily basis is the deteriorating soil fertility and its waning ability to produce quality food crops. The drilling process involves destruction of vegetation on a large scale and as such leaves it bare exposing it to the agents of soil erosion.

This has led to the terrain being exposed. The exposed land lacks the appropriate soil cover (e.g. one that contains humus), considerably limiting the potential number of agricultural activities within the area. Limited vegetation on the surface also limits the amount of water storage, increasing the amount of surface runoff aquatic organisms affected due to erosion. The loss in vegetation can also impact agents activity because of soil erosion.

Some other impact perceived to be too difficult for the public to fathom is the issue of invasive species. A golden alga is one known tixic invasive species that has invaded an expansive extent of Dunkard Creek in Green County, Pennsylvania as well as Monongalia County, West Virginia (Berkowitz 240; Kasey 17).

This has been reported to cause the death of aquatics including fish, salamanders, mussels and aquatic insects. How the algae came to be is however a subject for speculation. While the residents allege that their existence was a subject of introduction from a heavily infested area to Shale, environmentalists attribute their existence to the increased levels in TDS (Total Dissolved Solids). All said and done, it is understood that they were absent prior to the inception of natural gas exploitation.

The efforts put in place to mitigate the adverse effects of extraction of natural gas

The US government, through the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in Pennsylvania plays a big role in protecting its citizens against the adverse effects of natural gas exploitation. DEP has formulated policies and regulations that act as a buffer between the levels of exploitation and environmental conservation. For instance, concerning the ‘frac returns’, DEP requires that can be reused before being treated in lagoons prior to disposal to the rivers (Kobell 5).

This has played to reduce the TDS and hence mitigate their effects to the environment. It is also a requirement by DEP that the spoilt land be reclaimed by the companies involved to maintain its usefulness. DEP planned to create a policy which would make all the plants that take “fracking waste must be able to clean it well, and that it would nit issue new permits until the plant could” (Kobell 5).

Before mining is initiated, the government requires that permits be awarded to the mining companies. These permits are meant to lessen environmental degradation. One such permit issued is ‘Well drilling permit and bond’ (Citizens Guide to Marcellus Shale 4). This permit allows for the drilling of wells outside a locus of 100 feet of a water point.

This reduces the effects ‘frac return’ percolating in these water bodies. Other permits include, ‘Water Management Plan’, ‘Erosion and Sediment and Storm Water Control Plan’, ‘National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit’ among others (Citizens Guide to Marcellus Shale 4). The violation of any of these permits leads to responsibility before the law, thus, the companies follow the rules they are obliged to.

Some other laws along the corridors of justice that await implementation e.g. ‘Conservation Pooling Act’ directed at achieving a number of goals which include “minimizing the surface of Marcellus Shale drilling by limiting the number of well pads… and maximizing for landowner/lessors” (Citizens Guide to Marcellus Shale 3) to get the whole economic opportunity.

This one in particular is an all inclusive law that if implemented will provide checks and balances to the natural gas exploitation with an objective of conserving the ecosystem (Kobell 4).


The major issue in this standoff therefore is that the government should look up for ways in which all the stakeholders in the industry would stand to benefit at the end of everything. The government should enact laws that govern forest life as well as protect it, at the same time it should take into account the interests of the population. The company should therefore look up for ways in which to operate while conserving their environment. It should take initiatives such as using solar energy and other sources that are clean to the environment.

Works Cited

Berkowitz, Matt. “Bottling the water bottler: A critique of Pennsylvania groundwater law.” Temple Environmental Law & Technology Journal 23.5 (2004): 235-242. Print.

“Citizens’ guide to Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania.” National Sea Grant Law Center & Pennsylvania Sea Grant Fall 2010: 1-23. Print.

Hopey, Don. “Toxins tied to fish kill may have hitchhiked”, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 4 Oct. 2009: 26-30. Print.

Kasey, Pam. “Agencies probe salty water in Dunkard Creek fish kill.” 7 News 15 Oct. 2010: 17-19. Print.

Kobell, Rona. “Marcellus Shale: Pipe Dreams in Pennsylvania?” Chesapeake Bay Journal 12.5 (2009): 29-40. Print.

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