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For now, knowledge more valuable than natural gas

October 10, 2010
Morning Journal News

Just a few months ago, few people in Columbiana County had heard anything about Marcellus Shale.

What is the Marcellus Shale? According to the Web site, "The Marcellus Shale, also referred to as the Marcellus Formation, is a Middle Devonian-age black, low density, (organic rich) shale that occurs in the subsurface beneath much of Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York." The shale contains natural gas about a mile below the surface.

The Devonian is a geologic period spanning from 416 to 359.2 million years ago. It is named after Devon, England, where rocks from this period were first studied.

Why are we suddenly hearing so much about Marcellus Shale? In 2003, a Marcellus well drilled in Washington County, Pa. yielded a significant flow of natural gas.

Then, in 2008, Terry Englander, a geoscience professor at Penn State, and Gary Lash, a geology professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia, estimated that the Marcellus might contain more than 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. By using the horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing methods that had previously been used in the Barnett Shale of Texas, they estimated that 10 percent of that gas or 50 trillion cubic feet, might be recoverable. That volume of natural gas would be enough to supply the entire United States for about two years and have a wellhead value of about $1 trillion dollars.

According to, if the Marcellus Shale holds up to the optimistic expectations of some natural gas experts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and West Virginia could temporarily have an enormous boost in income that might be sustained for a few decades.

Sounds great ... or does it? While drilling activity and permit requests have increased immensely in Pennsylvania, it has not been without controversy. Just last month, 13 Pa. families living in the Marcellus Shale area filed a lawsuit claiming their water wells have been contaminated by poisonous fluids blasted deep underground by a drilling company using hydraulic fracturing.

While some are debating the effects of hydraulic fracturing on groundwater, the potential for landowners to be duped into signing away their mineral rights at a fraction of their worth is another concern of those opposed to this drilling.

At a meeting held last week at the Columbiana County Career Center, Mike McCormac, an oil and gas manager for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' division of mineral resource management, said "We don't have a lot of drilling activity. What we have is a lot of permitting activity.''

As of August, the state had yet to issue a single permit to drill for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale deposit in Columbiana County, although the number of mineral releases exploded from 18 during the first three months of the year to 208 over the next three months.

Officials expect drilling to come to the county eventually since these companies will want a return for securing these leases.

So, is it the next Gold Rush, or can drilling in the Marcellus Shale cause more problems for property owners than it's worth? Perhaps, only time will tell.

But in the meantime, property owners approached by drilling companies should be vigilant about doing their homework, and, before signing anything, consult an attorney.

Monday's meeting drew a standing-room-only crowd of more than 500. About 75 percent of those attending indicated by a show of hands they had been approached by gas companies interested in leasing their land.

Meetings such as the one held Monday are an excellent source of information for those who are considering leasing their property for drilling and we hope more will be scheduled since it is evident there is a huge interest in Columbiana County.



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