Natural Gas
What is Marcellus Shale?

Marcellus Shale Occurrence

Marcellus Shale is a geological formation that was formed by the accumulation of sediment into a sea. This formation was eventually buried over many thousands of years and compressed to produce an organic-rich black shale. This geological formation, which dates back to the Devonian time period, stretches from the Northeast to the Southwest in direction. The Marcellus starts at the base of the Catskills in upstate New York, stretches across the upstate toward Marcellus, New York (the town from which the formation is named) and southwest to West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio. The Marcellus Shale is known to be deeper on the southeast edge of the formation that borders the ridge and valley regions of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia. The Marcellus gets more shallow as it heads Northwest towards Ohio and Lake Erie.

Why Now?

Although throughout the geological world, Marcellus Shale has been identified as potentially rich in fossil fuels, it was not until recently that the natural gas drilling industry has invested into exploration in the Marcellus. Two factors are clearly present in the ramp up in exploration and production (E&P) activities related to Marcellus Shale. First, the success of the Barnett Shale play in North Central Texas has allowed companies to transfer the hydrofracturing technology to other areas, such as the Fayetteville Shale play (Arkansas), Haynesville Shale play (Louisiana and Eastern Texas), and the Marcellus Shale play. Second, the population centers of Northeastern U.S. are very close in proximity to the Marcellus Shale. This improves the economic conditions of the play because the demand for natural gas from this region is high; there are also costs associated with the transportation of natural gas so the close proximity will result in lower transportation costs.

What Does the Future of Marcellus Hold?

As America demands more and more energy, the role that natural gas will play in that demand is uncertain. One thing that is certain is the Marcellus play is shaping up to be a key supplier for domestic natural gas. Impacts from the natural gas drilling industry are uncertain as well. Historically, the energy industry has gone through times of "boom and bust" and is driven by the economical conditions present across the nation. The industry is also known for paying a higher wage, on average, compared to an equivalent manufacturing job. One thing that is not uncertain, though, is that the natural gas industry associated with Marcellus Shale exploration will give the nation another source to potentially reduce the intake of foreign supplies of natural gas.

What is shale gas and why is it important?

U.S. Energy Information Administration: Energy in Brief

Partial support for this work was provided by the National Science Foundation's Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program under Award No. 1003435. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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