WHEELING, W.Va. — Researchers from West Virginia University and Ohio State University are grinding more than a mile deep into the earth at the Morgantown Industrial Park to determine how fracking impacts the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.
Organizers believe the study at the Marcellus Shale Energy and Environmental Laboratory will be the first comprehensive look at the drilling and fracking process from beginning to end. Officials say the work will benefit both industry leaders and environmental regulators.
“What makes this field laboratory unique is that we are collecting the data in real time on site over the entire life cycle of the drilling, completion and production,” Timothy Carr, WVU’s Marshall Miller professor of geology and director of the lab, said. “We have brought together scientists, engineers, ecologists, public health professionals, social scientists and more to gain a comprehensive look at everything from the strength of the rock to the economic impact on communities.”
Shale gas is released by drilling a deep vertical well followed by drilling horizontally. Companies inject up to 10 million gallons of water, about 2 million pounds of sand, along with a cocktail of chemicals, deep into the earth at a force as high as 10,000 pounds per square inch to shatter the rock. This process creates cracks inside the shale, which allows the valuable natural gas and oil to flow to the surface.
“The project represents the power of collaboration and the potential for research with great impact,” Brian Anderson, director of WVU’s Energy Institute, said. “It is exciting to see the progress that has been made to this point and it is a real testament to the hard work that all the project partners have done thus far.”
While drilling the experimental well, researchers will take 50 one-inch side-wall core samples for geophysical, geochemical and microbiological investigation. Additionally, the research team will create image logs using these samples to construct a picture of the Marcellus in the deep subsurface, which is necessary to gain a better understanding of the organic content and characteristics of the shale formation.
Since the project began, scientists have been monitoring baseline air, noise, light and water at the site. Those assessments will continue through the life cycle of the project. The fracking process does result in certain amounts of air pollution, while there can also be light and sound pollution for those living near the activity.
Recently, an Environmental Protection Agency study identified 1,076 chemicals that have been used in fracking. Many of chemicals used in fracking are found in products as common as soda, detergent and hair dye. Some widely used fracking substances include hydrochloric acid, ethylene glycol, isopropanol, glutaraldehyde, petroleum distillate, guar gum, ammonium persulfate, formamide, borate salts, citric acid, potassium chloride and sodium carbonate.
“Since most chemicals are used infrequently on a nationwide basis, potential exposure is likely to be a local or regional issue, rather than a national issue,” the study states.
Scientific instruments in the WVU wells will measure seismic activity during the fracking process, while officials will analyze the water and fluid before and after to determine the impact.