Background Readings

Pros and Cons of Marcellus Shale Gas Development

A Beneficial Resource!          Potential Costs!      

Extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale can have some positive impacts on our economy and environment. Extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale can cause potential harm to our economy and environment.
  • Natural gas is a “clean” energy source. When natural gas is burned, it emits only half the amount of CO2 (carbon dioxide) compared to coal. If natural gas from the Marcellus Shale replaces some of the coal and oil used for energy in the U.S., emissions of greenhouse gases (CO2) and some of the chemicals that contribute to acid rain when coal is burned (SO2) can be reduced.
  • By switching to natural gas for power generation, we can also cut down on some of the small particles, such as sulfur and nitrogen oxides, that are emitted into the atmosphere when coal is burned. Health problems, such as asthma, that are made worse by small particulate matter floating in the air, can be greatly reduced.
  • In areas where energy development occurs, towns usually experience an increase in economic activity. Landowners receiving payments from natural gas royalties and gas company employees may spend their money at local stores, restaurants, and hotels. This can help local shop owners and also increase state and local tax revenue which is used to pay for things like better schools and roads.
  • Development of the Marcellus Shale may reduce the cost of energy. This cheaper source of energy could lower your family's monthly home heating and electric bills.
  • Some owners of marginally profitable farms have been able to make ends meet and keep their land after selling their gas drilling rights.
  • Runoff and erosion at drilling sites may increase sediment and nutrient loads in streams and rivers. This, in turn, can affect habitat quality for plants and animals that live downstream.
  • Biodiversity may be lost if aquatic plants and animals cannot tolerate changing water conditions. When large volumes of water are pumped from a stream or river, water chemistry can change significantly with a drop in water level. Temperatures may rise and oxygen levels may drop, affecting aquatic species that don't have a wide tolerance. Biodiversity may also be reduced if invasive species, such as the zebra mussel or golden algae, are introduced into a waterbody during the drilling process.
  • During the drilling process, wells for drinking water may become polluted with a variety of contaminants, such as methane gas. Gas wells require miles of roads and pipelines to move the natural gas from the drilling site to the market. Construction of these transportation corridors can break up the natural landscape and impact wildlife habitat.
  • Drilling operations may detract from hiking, hunting, and other recreational activities in the forests and rolling foothills of the Appalachian region. The drilling rigs tower over the landscape, standing out against the skyline during the initial fracturing process.
  • When the wells stop producing, economic activity may gradually decline over time. Jobs will likely be lost and retailers that relied on local dollars may lose much of their business profits.
  • Small towns may grow so quickly that they lose their community character. Chain stores may replace small businesses and open spaces may be turned into high density housing developments to support the workforce.

Additional Background Information about Natural Gas and the Marcellus Shale

View Chevron’s 3-minute video on Producing Natural Gas From Shale.

Rediscovering Natural Gas by Hitting Rock Bottom. (NPR report, September 22, 2009)

In Pa, Drilling Comes into Focus. (NPR All Things Considered, December 11, 2011)

The Natural Gas Industry in Pennsylvania (American Gas Association)

Natural Gas and the Environment website.

The Marcellus Shale, Explained, State Impact, Pennsylvania.

Explore Shale, Penn State Public Broadcasting.