By now, most everyone in the Mid-Atlantic states is aware of the gas-rich geologic formation known as the Marcellus Shale. After all, it has led to thousands of productive (and often problematic) gas wells in Pennsylvania and West Virgina, and has had some activity in New York, Ohio, and Virginia as well. Compared to other major shale gas plays such as the Barnett in Texas and the Fayetteville in Arkansas, the Marcellus covers a huge area, and several million people live right on top of it. Over the past several years, the Marcellus Shale has become big news, but there is another shale gas play in the area that is even bigger–the Utica Shale. All the gas industry has to do to get there is drill a little deeper.
Since the Marcellus is more accessible, it has rightly received much of the early attention, but the industry has already been looking ahead to the next shale gas “boom” for some time, as is evidenced by this 2002 report from New York.
And in Quebec (1), drilling in the Utica Shale has already begun. So, too, have the problems. This CBC News article reports that 19 of the 31 exploratory wells inspected by Quebec’s Ministry of Natural Resources were leaking natural gas. That ministry report is available here, in French.
This impact is really just the tip of the iceberg for the Utica Shale. After all, the formation is underneath seven US states and two Canadian provinces. But since, like the Marcellus Shale, the Utica requires hydraulic fracturing and each well produces millions of gallons of waste water, the entire effect of the future Utica Shale natural gas industry will be huge.
The Utica Shale and Major US Hydrologic Units. Please click on the gray compass rose to see the full extent.
The implications of this map are significant. Considering that pollutants flow downstream with the water, one can see how discharges in the Delaware River Basin in New York could affect municipal water sources in New Jersey, and how discharges in Ohio could have a similar impact in Indiana. These effects are, of course, already being felt with the efforts in the Marcellus Shale. In the months ahead, as talk of the Utica Shale begins to heat up, keep in mind that the formation is every bit as problematic as–but more widespread than–the Marcellus Shale.