Investigating Methane Gas from Marcellus Shale Drilling
7/25/2011 - Temple University - A multi-disciplinary team of
Temple researchers will investigate the origins of methane gas found
in drinking water wells near Marcellus Shale drilling sites in
Pennsylvania and how science is influencing the formation of public
policy on drilling.
The research is being funded through a one-year,
$66,000 multi-disciplinary grant from the William Penn Foundation.
“We know there are environmental concerns about the Marcellus Shale
and there have been some accidents related to the drilling,” said
Michel Boufadel, professor of environmental engineering and director
of the Center for Natural Resources Development and Protection (NRDP)
in Temple’s College of Engineering.
“There has been a lot of hype
about this issue and sometimes it is difficult to decipher what is
fact-based and what is opinion.”
recent study by researchers at Duke University showed that drinking
wells located near Marcellus Shale drilling sites in Susquehanna
County had an average concentration of methane gas that was 17 times
greater than wells not near drilling sites.
The study also concluded
that the methane had originated deep below the earth’s surface.
Boufadel, principal investigator for the Temple project, said that
the process used to drill into the shale creates enormous pressure
that could be forcing pockets of methane toward the drinking wells.
Temple’s research will attempt to determine if the methane gas found
in the wells was released from the shale during drilling or whether
it was located in pockets closer to the surface.
If the methane is originating in the upper formations, the likely
cause is the drilling operation or the well casing construction —
issues that could be addressed at a reasonable cost, said Boufadel.
However, if the gas is originating in the deep formation, the entire hydrofracking process could be considered hazardous and would need
to be stopped or dramatically modified, he said.
Michele Masucci, associate professor and chair of geography and
urban studies in the College of Liberal Arts, and Nicholas Davatzes,
assistant professor of earth and environmental science in the
College of Science and Technology will serve as co-investigators on
the research project to be conducted by the NRDP Center.
Boufadel said Masucci, a social scientist, will explore how the
science of the Marcellus Shale drilling is reaching policy makers,
how they are processing it and using it to formulate public policy
on the extraction of gas from the Marcellus Shale.
Davatzes, a structural geologist who has conducted research on
energy from deep geo-thermal wells, will play a crucial role in
constructing the geology of the impacted region, Boufadel said.
“Environmental research is inherently multi-disciplinary; the
challenges are not only technical or technological, but
socio-political as well,” said Boufadel.
“This project is a template
for dealing with important environmental issues, such as the
Marcellus Shale, where we have researchers from three colleges —
Engineering, Science and Technology and Liberal Arts — coming
together to find solutions.”
In addition to the research, the grant requires Temple to organize a
symposium on Marcellus Shale which will be held in the fall.