Okay...it's Valentine's Day, but lest ye forget, the Inflatable Dam was denied on 2/14/2008.
Please follow me on this one.
Several weeks ago, I read an article online that contained the following statement:
Industry geologists say the fluid that remains in the shale stays there. In the Marcellus, a mile of impermeable rock separates the shale from the aquifer. The big challenge is managing the fluid that flows back from the well when the fracturing is done.
Okay, last time I checked, impermeable meant: "not allowing the passage of a fluid through interstices; not permeable." So we're clear; the expert industry geologists claim there is a mile of impermeable rock between the M/S layer ( and all the toxic chemicals they leave down there when they are done fracking ) and our drinking water aquifers near the surface.
Hold that thought.
Yesterday, one of my Google alerts for "Marcellus drilling" snagged an article that included the following:
To reduce environmental risk, Endless Mountain did a detailed analysis of rock fractures between Marcellus Shale and the surface, identifying five groups of fractures at different depths and angles. By avoiding the fractures when drilling, Endless Mountain's team feels they greatly reduce the chance of contamination between layers, such as natural gas getting into water supplies.
You can read the rest of the article here. So, these guys claim there are fractures in the bedrock between the M/S layer and the surface?!? Fractures are pathways for stuff, including water, to move through bedrock. And in case you didn't make the connection yet, this would include the frackwater that remains underground - some 65% to 90% of it - laced with some really nasty toxic chemicals.
How can that be? The industry experts claim there is a mile of impermeable bedrock down there. These local guys claim it's loaded with cracks they can find and avoid to protect our waters. Who's right?
Well, neither. First, the industry guys get their paychecks from BIG OIL. They are simply lying. The guys from Olyphant are closer to being accurate, except for one problem. There truly is no way for them to accurately map out and avoid every single nook & cranny, fissure & fault between the M/S layer and the surface. They can certainly identify some of the major ones...but not every one. Period.
Now...if the wheels are starting to spin and the light bulb is growing brighter, that's good. Strap in for the last and best revelation.
As many of you know, I have a degree in the environmental sciences and lectured on the geology & geomorphology of the region many years ago. I'm not an expert, but in comparison to some of the "experts" making statements out there, I'm much further up the learning curve than most. But, alas, I recognized I would be discredited every time I yammered forth in this issue, much like BIG OIL is going after the mayor of Dish TX.
So, back in November, I decided to write to someone who is considered to be an expert, if not THE expert, on the Marcellus Shale formation. Dr. Terry Engelder been studying the geology of the region for ~30 years. He's quoted often in the media on this topic. He even has a side business, Appalachian Fracture Systems, that offers consulting services to folks that are interested in drilling for natural gas. (Seems like a little bit of a conflict of interest, but that's for the lawyers and/or PSU folks to determine.)
Now, once again, please follow me here.
This is what I wrote:
From: Don Williams
Sent: Saturday, November 28, 2009 8:19 AMTo: email@example.comSubject: Natural fracturing in layers above the Marcellus formation?
Good day, sir.
I've been following the Marcellus Shale play for some time, and have read numerous papers written by you, Dr. Nash and quite a few others. I have a degree in earth sciences, and although it's been many years, I still do recall and understand the basics of the geology and geomorphology of the northeast, as I had some great teachers including Dr. Mohamed T. El-Ashry.
In one of your articles, I remember reading that natural fractures in the black Marcellus layer extended vertically into the gray shale layer above, as much as 50 meters. Additionally, I also recall that the Marcellus layer is capped, both above and below, by a layer of limestone.
My questions are: whether there is a 100% unfractured/impermeable layer of bedrock between the Marcellus shale formation and the surface and 2). at what pressure is the water/sand/chemical mix injected into the Marcellus Shale layer as part of the hydrofracturing process? I'm seeing #'s ranging from 3k psi to 10k psi.
Thanks for your time.
I truly did not expect a response, but received one a few days later. Here it is:
From: "Terry Engelder"
To: "Don Williams"Sent: Monday, November 30, 2009 3:59:49 PM GMT -05:00 US/Canada EasternSubject: RE: Natural fracturing in layers above the Marcellus formation?
There is NO such thing as 100% unfractured/impermeable rock.. The pressure required to fracture Marcellus is less than the vertical stress which increases approximately as 1psi/ft. So, a Marcellus well at 6,000 feet will fracture at < 6k psi…
Terry EngelderProfessor of GeosciencesDepartment of Geosciences334 A Deike BuildingThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity Park, PA 16802
Folks, there you have it. I hope that those who took the time to read this entire post and the links truly recognize what will happen if natural gas drilling using horizontal hydrofracturing is allowed to expand in PA beyond where it is today. It's already too late for many families in Dimock, but I still believe we can bring the Marcellus Shale frenzy to an abrupt halt if enough people summon the will to make it happen.
We can live without natural gas. We cannot live for too long without clean water.
The time to act is now.