Big Fracking Deal: The Marcellus Shale Explained

Marcellus Black Shale exposure on Interstate 80. Image uploaded to Wikimedia by Dahluza.

Marcellus Black Shale exposure on Interstate 80. Image uploaded to Wikimedia by Dahluza.

Residents of the Greater Philadelphia area have been getting geology lessons recently as the local media are turning the phrase “Marcellus Shale” into a household name. The Marcellus Shale is a geologic formation that includes sedimentary rock and pockets of natural gas reserves that is found under vast stretches of the Appalachians sitting underneath parts of Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, and Maryland, with large swaths under Pennsylvania and New York.

The Marcellus Shale is of interest and is controversial because of those natural gas reserves it contains. Gas companies want to (and do) drill into the land to retrieve the gas. While the gas in the shale formation has been known to geologists and others for about 75 years, recent technological breakthroughs have now made these vast reserves available to drillers.

The most common way to retrieve gas is called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and it is easy to find people on both sides of the debate—for and against fracking. Cheap and plentiful energy resources are great, but residents and watch groups are concerned that fracking may pose a substantial threat to drinking water and could create other environmental problems.

On Friday, Distillations began a 4-part series about the classical elements—earth, air, fire, and water. The first—earth—focuses on the Marcellus Shale. Take a listen to find out about the geologic history of the shale and find out what some residents of northeastern Pennsylvania think about fracking and selling their gas rights, as told to producer Susan Phillips.

Also be sure to check out the week-long series radio station WHYY is running about the Marcellus Shale, also by Susan Phillips, as well as her colleague Kerry Grens.

Then tell us: what are your thoughts about fracking and what is happening with the Marcellus Shale? Are you and your loved ones affected by it? We want to know!

Posted In: Technology

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