PA Geologists: Don’t Take Benefits of Marcellus Shale for Granite

Association of PA scientists decries “erroneous information” in media targeting natural gas technology, cites the Marcellus as a way to “create and preserve jobs while protecting the environment”

The Pennsylvania Council of Professional Geologists (PCPG) has been representing the interests of scientists and engineers in the Commonwealth for more than 20 years now, and in that time, its members have helped find and produce more than 3.1 trillion (with a “T”) cubic feet of clean-burning, locally available natural gas for people across the state.

The organization’s core mission? To advocate for “the use of sound science in the formulation of public policy, protection of human health and the environment … and the dissemination of accurate information” to regulators, policy-makers, the press and the public. Thankfully, it’s a mission that PCPG continues to pursue aggressively and with credibility in the Commonwealth to this day – most recently, lending its unique scientific perspective to the current debate over natural gas exploration in Pennsylvania.

By way of a recent position paper released by the group in late March, here’s how PCPG views the promise and potential of the Marcellus Shale:

PCPG considers Marcellus shale gas exploration and production to be a worthwhile and necessary endeavor that will have a very significant and continuing positive effect on Pennsylvania’s economy. Additional shale gas production in Pennsylvania means more energy independence for the United States.

Naturally, the economic benefits of responsible natural gas development are manifold – according to Penn State University, we’re talking about thousands of high-wage, family-supporting jobs, billions in annual revenue for Harrisburg and local governments, and stable supplies of affordable energy that Pennsylvanians rely on for light, heat and power.

But is the process for producing these critical resources actually safe? How about the technology and equipment deployed at the well site – how does that stand up to the scrutiny of science?  Here again, PCPG has some answers:

Historically, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracing) technologies have a low incidence of proven adverse impacts to potable water quality. Marcellus natural gas wells typically consist of a vertical bore (drilled with technically sound, time-tested equipment and methods) … at depths between 5,000 and 9,000 feet below ground surface. … It is unlikely that a properly designed and constructed Marcellus gas well will have an adverse affect on the much shallower fresh water aquifer zones, which typically occur within 500 feet or less from the ground surface.

You see, as the PCPG position paper points out here: depth matters. Sure, Pennsylvania’s energy producers deploy some of the most innovative technologies in existence today to access resources underground safely and responsibly. And sure, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regulates and oversees every single stage of the development process, ensuring that our air, water and land remain protected and preserved.

But let’s not forget about the role that geology plays in this process as well. Remember: The formations from which this clean-burning natural gas is produced happen to reside thousands and thousands of feet (and even a couple miles) below formations that support drinking water – with the two strata separated by millions of tons of solid, impermeable rock.

The complete PCPG position statement on the Marcellus Shale can be accessed here. Who knew science could be this fun?