Some Background on Marcellus Shale

Marcellus Shale is an enormous natural gas bearing layer of shale rock approximately 1 mile beneath the earth’s surface, extending from New York’s Southern Tier, through the western half of Pennsylvania and into Ohio and West Virginia. It is estimated to be the second largest natural gas bearing shale formation in the world.

Small-scale drilling in Marcellus Shale has occurred for decades with rigs boring vertical wells into the shale bed that intersect with horizontal fractures in the formation where the gas is contained. In the early 2000s, however, advances in drilling technology enabled rigs to drill deep into the shale layer and then to drill horizontally along fracture lines. The gas is recovered using a technique called hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking") in which large quantities of water, sand and chemicals are forced into the well, causing the shale layers to break apart along fracture lines, releasing the gas contained within the rock.

Marcellus development has had significant economic impacts for Pennsylvania.  Most of the development is taking place in rural and poorer parts of the state, and many landowners have found themselves suddenly wealthy from drilling leases to gas companies in addition to percentage fees for gas recovered from the wells.  Other Pennsylvanians have found work within the gas industry, although many gas industry workers have also come in from out of state.

Controversy Surrounding Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Development

Despite the potential economic benefits associated with natural gas development, Marcellus development has been surrounded by controversy on several fronts.

First, critics point to what they see as significant environmental risks associated with hydraulic fracturing, a procedure that can result in groundwater and surface contamination.  In the first years of Marcellus development in Pennsylvania, much of the water used in hydraulic fracturing was processed as wastewater in sewage treatment plants that were not designed to treat fracking fluid chemicals or the naturally occurring radioactivity originating from rock layers deep beneath the surface.  Now, much of the wastewater from hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania is shipped to Ohio and injected into deep wells, a process that has been linked to incidence of minor earthquakes. Critics also note that large drilling rigs, wastewater holding ponds, and compression stations contribute to noise and air pollution, and that gas pipelines in heavily developed areas will fragment farmland and forested areas. Much of the drilling activity has also occurred in Pennsylvania's state forest land, state game lands and the Allegheny National Forest.

Second, rapid development has already placed significant stresses on many rural communities. Especially in the initial years of development, econdary roads not build for significant heavy truck traffic experienced considerable wear and tear, and truck traffic has, in some instances, also created safety concerns for schools and local residents.  Movement of new workers into heavily developing areas has also tightened housing markets, increasing rental prices and decreasing housing availability.

Third, many observers in Pennsylvania have noted that because there is no severance tax on natural gas production in Pennsylvania, only a small proportion of revenues from natural gas development funnel back to local schools, municipalities and public services which are ill-equipped to handle increases in traffic and new populations.  Act 13, signed into law February, 2012, provides the imposition of an impact fee for unconventional gas wells that counties can opt to enact.  This too has caused controversy, in part because of the restrictions it places on local zoning regulations connect to gas exploration.

Center of Rural Education and Communities Engages in Marcellus Research

Marcellus development will have major lasting impacts on the social, economic and environmental conditions across much of rural Pennsylvania, an area that in recent decades has lagged economically and provided few opportunities for young people entering the labor force. To date, however, no assessment that we are aware of has investigated how schools are affected by or are responding to these recent changes. The center on Rural Education and Communities through funding from Penn State's Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research (MCOR) and the Social Science Research Institute, and in collaboration with Penn College, has conducted a statewide survey of educational leaders from Career and Technology Centers and secondary schools across Pennsylvania's Marcellus region. This pilot study investigates the extent to which schools and Career and Technology Centers have responded in terms of workforce preparation, what local stakeholders see as the key opportunities and challenges Marcellus development poses for rural communities, and what this implies for the ways in which Pennsylvania’s rural schools may best serve their youth and communities.

CREC is currently partnering with faculty in the Department of Agriculture, Economics, Sociology and Education on a 6-year, 4-county case study of Marcellus Shale development in Pennsylvania.  This work is funded through a grant from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania and will examine multiple impacts of unconventional gas development in the Marcellus shale, including impacts on education, health, social services, housing, agriculture and local economic development.

CREC Collaborates with Pennsylvania School Studies Council to Host 1-Day Marcellus Conference

On March 15, 2012, CREC in collaboration with The Pennsylvania School Studies Conucil held a 1-Day Marcellus Conference focusing on unconventional gas development in Pennsylvania entitled, Understanding & Preparing for Marcellus Shale Impacts in Your School District.

Featuring panels and presentations by researchers, workforce development specialists, acting administrators, and industry representatives, topics covered included community impact of Marcellus Shale gas development and the implications for schools in the areas of enrollment change, transportation issues, workforce development, student guidance, fiscal impacts and school-industry partnerships and community stakeholders with infomational resources to aid them in making decisions to help minimize the challenges and maximize the benefits associated with rapid gas development and community change in communities and school districts across Pennsylvania.

Marcellus Shale Development has emerged as one of the most politically contested issues facing Pennsylvania in recent memory.  Listed below are the websites of organizations that have advocacy roles for Marcellus Shale development as well as websites for organizations that have raised serious questions regarding hydraulic fracturing and unconventional gas extraction, including grassroots citizens' groups.

Marcellus Shale Advocacy Organizations:

Organizations Critical Marcellus Shale Development: