The Marcellus Papers

The Marcellus Papers

The Marcellus Papers are a series of papers exploring Earth System Science issues related to Marcellus Shale drilling, placed online between May 2011 and January 2012.

The Marcellus Papers (here provided in PDF format) were produced under a grant from the National Science Foundation (GEO 1016359) in partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) as part of the CCE Marcellus Shale Team. The Papers are not copyrighted in this form, and can be used freely for educational purposes. If you are disseminating the Marcellus Papers beyond individual use, for example, through a website link or distribution to a class, Paleontological Research Institution would appreciate being notified about your use of the Papers to marcellusshale@museumoftheearth.org.

A book containing information from the Marcellus Papers, plus additional content, was released in October 2013, titled The Science Beneath the Surface: A Very Short Guide to the Marcellus Shale.

Introduction to the Marcellus Shale

An introduction to the geological characteristics and considerations of the Marcellus Shale, as well as its cultural history and major topics of interest. (issued May 2011)

Answers in a general way questions like:
What is the Marcellus Shale?
Why the interest in hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking or fracking) here, now?

Why the Geology Matters

A discussion of the geological characteristics associated with the Marcellus Shale. (issued May 2011)

Look here for things like:
How old is the Marcellus Shale?
How did it form?
What processes created the natural gas that is there today?
Why are some areas more attractive to gas drillers than others?
Why does extracting gas from the Marcellus Shale require hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking or fracking)?
How does the geology of the Marcellus affect things like naturally occurring radioactive materials, seismic activity (earthquakes), and jointing and fracturing (how the shale breaks) in the shale?

Making the Earth Shake: Understanding Induced Seismicity

A discussion of the possibility of induced seismicity resulting from natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. (issued May 2011)

Look here for things like:
How and why do earthquakes happen?
How we measure and classify earthquakes?
What is considered to be induced seismicity (human-cause earthquakes)?
How has New York been affected by earthquakes, both human-caused and natural?
What is the potential for hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking or fracking) to cause earthquakes in the Marcellus Shale?
What is the potential for other activity associated with natural gas extraction to cause earthquakes?

Understanding Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material in the Marcellus Shale

A discussion of the naturally occurring radioactive material resulting from natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. (issued Aug 2011)

Look here for things like:
What is naturally occurring radioactivity (NORM)?
What are the different kinds of radioactivity?
Why is the Marcellus Shale Radioactive?
How radioactive is the Marcellus Shale and how does it compare to other kinds of gas or oil-bearing rocks?
How does drilling in the Marcellus Shale bring NORM to the surface?
What are the risks of exposure to NORM from the Marcellus?

Jointing and Fracturing in the Marcellus Shale

A discussion of natural fractures, or joints, present in the Marcellus Shale and the hydraulic fractures that are induced during unconventional gas drilling to extract natural gas. (issued Aug 2011)

Look here for things like:
Why is the rock that makes up the Marcellus Shale already fractured?
How will hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking or fracking) create new fractures and join existing ones?
How does the potential fracture size differ throughout the Marcellus Shale?
How do we measure the extent of fracturing, both natural and human-caused, in the Marcellus Shale?
What is the potential for fluid and gas migration from the Marcellus Shale to the surface?
How does the potential for fluid and gas migration from hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking or fracking) in the Marcellus compare to fracking in other formations, like coal bed methane?

Understanding Drilling Technology

A discussion of the technologies associated with unconventional natural gas drilling and how it compares to more familiar conventional drilling techniques. (issued Jan 2012)

Look here for things like:
What does it mean for a natural gas resource or drilling method to be conventional or unconventional, and how does that relate to gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale?
What is directional or horizontal drilling?
What is hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking or fracking)?
How is a Marcellus Shale well drilled?
How is a Marcellus Shale well hydraulically fractured (fracked)?
What are casings, well bores, perforation guns, blowout preventers, conduction pipes, wiper plugs, and drilling muds, and how do each come into play during the gas extraction process?
How long does each part of the process take?
What are some alternatives to current hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking or fracking) in the Marcellus Shale, including fracking with liquid propane?
What happens to natural gas after it comes to the surface?
How is natural gas transported from one place to another?

Water: Into the Wells

A discussion of the water input required to hydraulically fracture a Marcellus Shale well- the quantity, additives, and risks. (issued Nov 2011)

Look here for things like:
What is high volume, slickwater horizontal hydraulic fracturing (HVHF)?
How is water used to extract natural gas?
How much water will it take to hydraulically fracture (hydrofrack or frack) a single well in the Marcellus Shale?
How much water will it take to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale in New York State and how does this compare to other uses of water?
Where will the water used in Marcellus Shale drilling and hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking or fracking) come from?
What are the major river basins in New York State?
How do impacts of water withdrawal differ from place to place?
What regulations might govern water withdrawal for hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking or fracking)?
What chemicals are used during the drilling and hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking or fracking) and why?
How harmful are the chemicals currently used?
What are some of the alternatives to using these chemicals, replacing current chemicals with food-grade alternatives and using liquid propane as a hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking or fracking fluid?
How many truck trips are required per well?
What are the risks for contamination of ground and surface water associated with transportation, drilling, and hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking or fracking), including surface spills, casing failures, and blowouts?
What are some documented cases of water contamination due to drilling an hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking or fracking)?

Water: Out of the Wells

A discussion of the waste fluids from Marcellus drilling: what they are and where they will go. (issued Nov 2011)

Look here for things like:
How much water stays in the ground after hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking or fracking) and why?
What chemicals of concern does the water bring back with it to the surface?
What are volatile organic compounds, heavy metals, total dissolved solids, brine, and naturally occurring radioactive materials, and why are they a concern in the environment?
What is formation water, produced water, wastewater, and flowback fluid?
What are the proposed regulations in the watersheds that serve New York City and Syracuse?
What are the disposal options proposed by New York State for drilling wastewater, and what are some pros and cons to each?
What is the risk of contamination from drilling wastewater, and what are some instances of contamination from elsewhere in the country?

Beyond Water

A discussion of the non-water related environmental issues associated with drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale. (issued Jan2012)

Look here for things like:
What are some of the non-water environmental issues that could arise from gas drilling?
What could the impact of gas drilling be on air quality?
What are methane (CH4), carbon dioxide (CO2), hydrogen sulfide (SO2), carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides (NO and NOx)? Why are they produced during natural gas extraction, how much might be released, and how will that affect air quality?
What do venting, flaring, truck traffic, and compressor stations have to do with air quality?
What are drilling muds and drilling cuttings? Where do they come from, how much might be produced, and what problems might their disposal pose?
How will drilling activity affect erosion and sedimentation? How can this be mitigated?
How could water withdrawal, excess erosion, land clearing, and surface water contamination affect local stream ecology?
What are the potential effects of habitat loss and fragmentation due to well pad, access road, and pipeline construction on our ecosystems?
How much land is cleared to build a well?
What can Pennsylvania land use for drilling tell us about potential land use in New York?
How loud is drilling activity?

Sources and Uses of Energy: A brief overview

A discussion of the sources and uses of energy, how they have changed over time and how Marcellus Shale is contextualized within the larger energy system. (issued Nov 2011)

Look here for things like:
What does getting energy from the Marcellus Shale mean in the larger context of our energy use?
What are our current sources of energy sources in New York State?
What have we used in the past?
How might it change in the future?
What are the negative environmental impacts of large-scale use of nuclear, hydroelectric, solar, and fossil fuel energy?
How do we use the energy we consume?