The Marcellus Shale is a large swath of black rock deep beneath the soil in parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia. The rock contains vast pockets of natural gas that, when extracted, can be used as an energy source. Some estimates peg the reserves of natural gas in Marcellus Shale in the trillions of cubic feet-enough natural gas to supply energy consumption for years in the U.S.
The conventional method for removing natural gas from shale involved vertical drilling and extraction through hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking") of the rock, using a mixture of chemicals and water. Advancements in fracking technology enable drillers to drill vertically and then horizontally once the drill reaches the depth of the shale. This advancement, coupled with increased demand for domestic energy resources, has compelled energy development companies to significantly increase their drilling opportunities and activities beneath land in the Marcellus Shale region.
State agencies are charged with regulating the natural gas drilling process to ensure that natural gas exploration provides a reliable source of energy while also being conducted in a way that is safe for both people and the environment.
Drilling companies endeavor to extract and distribute the gas resources to the marketplace in the most expeditious and economically advantageous manner, but they must comply with regulations that govern that process.
Critics are expressing concern that the pursuit of this economic opportunity is being given priority over the environmental consequences of gas drilling, both short-term and long-term, and they are pushing regulatory agencies to tighten controls over drilling companies.
In Northeast Pennsylvania, many private landowners have already leased portions of their properties to gas drilling companies. In addition, there are expectations that demands to lease public lands for this purpose are close at hand.
Landowners and local community leaders are faced with responsibility for balancing an economic opportunity with stewardship of the land for future generations. In a region long used to economic hardship, this is a difficult balancing act to conduct.
Northeast Pennsylvania's coal mining history offers a unique perspective on the issues surrounding natural gas drilling. While the coal boom of the 20th century led to prosperity for many, it also left an indelible mark on the region's environment and caused long-term economic disarray from dependence on a single industry. Many former coal-mining towns in Pennsylvania are still struggling to recover from the outcomes of unchecked industrial development.
"Marcellus Shale: Opportunities and Challenges" is an educational, public forum in which guest presenters will offer economic, environmental, regulatory, and governmental perspectives on the short- and long-term implications of natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale region. The purpose of the forum is to inform and encourage constructive, continued dialogue about these vitally important concerns.
The opportunities and challenges facing our region and world in planning for a sustainable future deserve our collective focus. The Marywood University forum, "Marcellus Shale: Opportunities and Challenges," is the first of the Marywood University Sustainability Series -- forums hosted by the University that will address sustainability issues and will endeavor to educate students and inform the general public through constructive dialogue and meaningful idea exchanges.