Biological & Environmental Engineering
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Overview of Shale Gas Impacts Research

Growing interest in tapping into the Marcellus shale formation for its potentially vast natural gas resources has made the northeastern US a hotbed of conflict between pro- and anti-drilling advocates. Industry sources claim that the latest drilling technologies are completely safe, producing energy to reduce dependence on coal and imported oil. Opponents claim that extensive drilling with high-volume hydrofracturing will have unacceptable adverse impacts such as long-term contamination of ground water, industrialization of rural character, and release of natural gas into rural homes. Regulators and elected officials try to balance benefits and risks as they tackle the task of developing policy surrounding extraction of the Marcellus gas and use of new techniques like hydrofracturing.

We hope to contribute to the readiness of state and local governments for the kinds of accidents that large scale hydrofracturing has produced in early adopter areas like Pennsylvania. Fracturing fluids, fluids that return to the surface after fracturing ("flowback water"), and gas production brine ("produced water") all can have adverse effects when inadvertently released into the surface environment. We are beginning to study the environmental fate of constituents of these fluids after they are spilled or otherwise released. Depending on the location and rock type, the formations from which the natural gas derives can contain high concentrations of salt and metals such as barium and radium. Our earlier research into metals and soil, notably the fate of metals in sewage biosolids, sensitized us to the fate of metals from spilled or applied gas well liquids. Our beginning shale gas liquids research has been in the laboratory and field. Collaborators on these projects include Lynne Irwin, Larry Cathles, and Bob Kay, all from Cornell.

We are also working to establish basic baseline water quality levels in parts of New York, in the event that there is a question of impact on local water resources due to natural gas drilling in the future. Water samples will be taken from a sampling of homeowner drinking water wells and analyzed for dissolved methane gas, as well as trace metals and other solutes. This particular work is possible through funding from the Cornell University Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future and by assistance from the NY Water Resources Institute and local Soil and Water Conservation Districts. More information on this project can be found here

For more information on the Marcellus shale and hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, check out this link for further references.

Please contact Steve Pacenka about this material.

Last updated 2011 09 27