Marcellus Shale is a prominent issue in Pennsylvania. Known as the “Marcellus Shale play,” this natural resource, like any other energy source, spurs concern and debate in the arenas of economics, environmentalism, and politics. Before these issues are addressed, we must first look at the basics of the situation.
Marcellus Shale formations lay five to nine thousand feet under ground and contain large reserves of uncapped natural gas. Officials estimate that around ten years of the United State’s natural gas consumption, or a value of one trillion dollars, may be extracted from Marcellus Shale. Stretching across New York State’s Fingerlake region, through the coal-rich fields of Pennsylvania to Ohio’s Appalachia region and West Virginia, the Marcellus Shale play is an abundant domestic energy source. A mere three hour drive south from Titusville, Pennsylvania — where oil was first drilled for — is the site of the first Marcellus Shale extraction, where production began in 2005.
The process of harvesting Marcellus Shale is similar to the conventional methods of extracting oil. The Marcellus Shale Coalition of Pennsylvania, an organization mainly comprised of gas companies, describes the following process: Once a company leases land (or in some states, such as Ohio, just the mineral rights below the surface), seismic blasting exploration surveys for natural gas reserves. Once a hot bed is located, horizontal drilling takes place. Though from the surface horizontal drills resemble a traditional oil well, these machines drill vertically to a depth of approximately four thousand feet and then angle off parallel to the ground surface for an additional five to eight thousand feet. Once drilled, well casing is piped down the hole to provide stability. Marcellus Shale fractures are vertical, and as a result, horizontal drilling cracks the shale perpendicular to the nature factures, opening up a flow of released natural gas. Another method, hydraulic fracturing, injects millions of gallons water into the shale, building pressure resulting in factures. A successful well is then flared, capped, and hooked to a pipeline. A typical drill site covers around five acres; though once drilled, the site disappears into a well access road, water tanks, meters, and the wellhead.
Drilling for Marcellus Shale is not a new idea. However, the current interest in harvesting the shale is due to the fact that it is becoming a more attractive energy source because of the high costs of petroleum and the recent technology advancements in procuring the natural gas. Not only is the Marcellus Shale play a domestic energy source, it is also cost-effective because of its location in relation to existing pipelines and demands for natural gas. Technological advancements in drilling allow efficient and environmentally conscious production. A single horizontal well can extract natural gas from a large surrounding area, rather than having a landscape littered with multiple wellheads. Furthermore, though the hydraulic fracturing process requires a great deal of water, much of it can be recycled efficiently throughout the process. Naturally, those that seek to tap into this natural resource have argued that their methods are environmentally friendly.
Currently, there are around 450 Marcellus Shale wells in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and a growing number in neighboring Ohio. In the state of New York, Marcellus Shale drilling and exploration has been put on hold until environmental officials, gas companies, and legislators reach an agreement concerning the drilling. This drilling moratorium has caused companies to pursue leases in other states without moratoriums, flooding Ohio and Pennsylvania in a ‘gold-rush mentality.’ Rather than dog sleds, landmen (representatives of the energy companies) are arriving by pickup truck, offering lease contracts and even signing bonuses for prime extraction points. Many state legislatures are concerned that contracts may not be solidified in the best interests of their constituents and are pursuing regulations to ensure that they are, adding to the political aspect of the Shale play.
The Marcellus Shale play has opened a Pandora’s box of discussion and debate. Gas and oil companies are eager to unleash landmen to bring on new contracts, but even those that work in the oil production industry are concerned about how Marcellus Shale will disrupt the supply and demand of the current market. While landowners might find an excess of natural gas favorable to their heating bills, they are also faced with the proposition of intrusive drilling operations and apprehensions of environmental disturbance. Energy has always been a ‘hot button issue’ in contemporary politics and candidates from Marcellus Shale-rich regions are certainly playing into the controversy of the issue, proposing new jobs and a decrease in foreign dependency as a result of harvesting from this domestic source. As the Marcellus Shale play develops, we must look carefully at these economic, environmental, and political issues.
 Institute for Energy Research
 Marcellus Shale Coalition. http://marcelluscoalition.org/marcellus-shale/production-processes/
 David T. Messersmith, Penn State.
 Marcellus Shale Coalition.
 Penn Dept of Conservation and Natural Resources; Ohio Dept of Natural Resources
 “‘Gold-rush mentality’ Targeting County Land Over Marcellus Shale”, Tom Giambroni, Morning Journal, Aug 9, 2010. http://www.morningjournalnews.com/page/content.detail/id/521099.html
 Note: As of October 14th, PA Legislators were still considering passing a bill concerning Marcellus Shale before the end of their legislative session.