SYKESVILLE — Marcellus Shale gas drilling, is it safe or not?
That's the question that more than 100 people gathered to hear the answer to at the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary social hall in Sykesville Friday evening.
The program, presented by Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Water and Air, was researched and prepared by J. Stephen Cleghorn, Ph.D., the co-owner of Paradise Gardens and Farm LLC, along with Lucinda Hart-Gonzalez, Ph.D., who both live on Paradise Road, Henderson Township. Cleghorn said they were planning on sharing the information presented with the energy companies and will ask them if there were any errors or misinformation.
“If it is incorrect, we'll correct it and continue to obtain the facts to present to the public,” Cleghorn explained, adding that the resources that were used to obtain the information presented were made available to everyone in attendance.
“Unfortunately, representatives from the gas companies were unable to attend our forum,” he said. “Our basic question is, what's happening with this type of drilling, what are the benefits of it, what are some of the risks of it; the other impacts of this drilling, and what can we do as a community get ready for it?”
The controversial process of drilling 7,000 feet down into the Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Field Formation — which extends through Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia — is a part of the Devonian Black Shale Field.
The Marcellus Shale is hinted to hold a huge amount of natural gas, causing companies to go on a gigantic mineral rights land grab.
This shale rock formation was named after the town of Marcellus, N.Y., due to the outcrop formation in the shale.
Cleghorn said this type of drilling requires a five-acre pad instead of one-forth an acre with the traditional shallow well drilling.
“One Marcellus pad is 15 times larger than the pad for a shallow gas well,” Cleghorn said. “The basic term that is used is hydraulic fracturing, which is where they get down into the shale with production casing and perforate it with a gun that puts holes in the side of it out into the shale.”
Cleghorn added that drillers push water, sand and chemicals down there. “
It is very hard, and the drillers use extreme pressure and prop open the cracks in the shale to allow the gas to come out,” he said. “These are unconventional wells, that’s what they’re called, and are able to get from tight shale and narrow seeds far below the surface, approximately six or seven thousand feet below us. They're able to extract the gas through a process known as High Volume Slick-water Fracking.”
Cleghorn explained the process of how the gas is extracted from the deep wells.
“Some pads may have as many as 16 wells on it, depending on what they're doing underground,” Cleghorn said, explaining that slick water is water with chemicals added to it.
“Long laterals are the horizontal bores through shale down below us," Cleghorn said. “They can extend for more than a mile, and some operators have achieved up to two miles on those long laterals, and they correspond to directional drilling and are part of multi-well pads.”
Cleghorn added that with the high density of gas in the region, there is going to be a lot of industrial development.
“They're going to try and get to it with a dense pattern of wells. There's going to be a lot of industrial development running across the countryside with a lot of equipment 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days of the year,” he said. “There will be a lot more waste to deal with because of the chemicals and the heavy metals that are in the radioactive materials and hydrocarbons that are able to go airborne.”
Cleghorn pointed out that the gas industry stated that there's less of a surface impact because of the depth of the well.
“They take up more space during construction and after they're reclaimed,” Cleghorn said, adding that DEP said there were 350,000 shallow wells drilled in Pennsylvania since 1859, and the experts are estimating that 200,000 Marcellus wells have been planned over the next 50 years.
“The gas production pads following reclamation will use 124 percent more land than all the pads of all of the shallow wells built in this state, many of which have been covered over completely by now,” Cleghorn noted. “It's a lot of wells, there will be like one around every corner, if it happens the way the industry is talking about it.”
Cleghorn pointed out some of the benefits of drilling Marcellus mines, such as meeting energy needs and reducing oil imports.
“There's an economic impact for some folks spurring other businesses," Cleghorn said, adding that it creates more jobs and it burns cleaner than other fuels.
“The benefits of unconventional drilling include access to the gas you could never reach before, and you can get more gas with fewer wellheads," Cleghorn said, adding that the energy lobby is saying that hydraulic frackturing is nothing new.
“Most of the million fracked wells that they're talking about are verticals; only 30,000 are using the unconventional method," Cleghorn stated. “The Marcellus Shale Coalition calls it an environmentally safe proven production method.
“Range Resources, which is one of the best companies, reported to its investors and described the risk of what they're doing," Cleghorn noted, adding that the deeper they go, there are more risk exposures.
“They don't really know what is going to happen down there. They try to do the best that they can,” Cleghorn said, adding that there are drilling experts who say that this process is still being invented.
For more information, contact the Pennsylvania Alliance For Clean Water and Air at its Web site, www.pacwa.org .