Shale We Dance?

Jan 4, 2013

A worker operates a drilling rig console at a natural gas well in Washington County, PA. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg.

This video of natural gas wells sprouting up like mushrooms across Pennsylvania is making the rounds of the blogosphere (both Mark Perry at AEI and Steven Hayward at Power Line link to it). We can thank shale energy for this burst of job-creating activity.

With the release of the movie Promised Land, expect to hear more about shale energy. But what is shale? It’s a type of rock that sometimes contains natural gas and oil.  Fossil fuels can be extracted from these “shale formations” or “shale plays,” or simply “shales” with horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.

One of those formations is the Marcellus Shale stretching from New York State across northeastern and western Pennsylvania, through eastern Ohio, and southeast into West Virginia. Development of this formation and others like it support thousands of jobs right now, and more are expected to be created in the future. In Ohio, the Utica Shale, supports 38,830 jobs, and according to a study sponsored by the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, that could rise to over 266,000 by 2035. Neighboring West Virginia is also benefiting with 11,884 jobs supported by shale energy today and over 58,000 expected by 2035. These are jobs on natural gas wells, supplying and supporting them, building infrastructure, or caused by shale energy’s ripple effects on local economies.

Roughly 1,000 miles to the southwest of the Marcellus and Utica Shales is Arkansas’ Fayetteville Shale. According to the Institute for 21st Century Energy study, shale energy supports 33,100 jobs now in Arkansas and that will rise to over 56,000 by 2035. To get a sense of how a natural gas well is developed with horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, take a look at this Technology Review photo essay from the Fayetteville Shale. You can see how blue collar grit and the latest in computing technology combine to bring natural gas to the surface from thousands of feet below.

Shale energy does have its critics. In Technology Review, Mark Brownstein, chief counsel for the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund’s energy program, wonders if hydraulic fracturing can be done safely. He claims the jury is still out, but let me throw a three things out there:

  1. Outgoing EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told a House of Representatives Oversight Committee in 2011, "I’m not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water, although there are investigations ongoing."
  2. EPA had to stop blaming hydraulic fracturing for causing water contamination in Dimock, PA and Pavillion, WY, and Parker County, TX.
  3. MIT scientists found that hydraulic fractured natural gas wells produce slight more greenhouse gas emissions conventional natural gas wells.

Because of hydraulic fracturing U.S. natural gas production will increase 44% by 2040 according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This will mean more jobs, more revenue for cash-strapped governments, and more economic growth.  It has all the makings for a great American success story (maybe even a movie).

[H/T Washington Free Beacon]

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