June 26, 2019 | 87° F

Professors discuss benefits of shale rock gas extraction

A breakthrough in drilling methods may soon allow the United States access to a coal replacement, said Corey Lang, an assistant professor at The University of Rhode Island.

The United States only recently began accessing this resource, but has already seen positive environmental and economic effects, he said.                                                                                   

Gal Hochman, an associate professor in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, said shale gas is an unconventional way to extract natural gas.

It is a tremendous resource that is extracted from shale rock, which is found deep underneath the surface, Lang said. 

This natural gas was only recently made accessible due to a technological breakthrough in a method of drilling, he said. Engineers found a way to drill horizontally into the shale rock to extract the natural gas that was trapped in microscopic pores.

“[It has] very clear macroeconomic effects on the United States economy,” he said.

The extraction of this resource has benefited college students, since the process requires engineers and geologists, opening up more jobs, Lang said.

Experts studied locations in Pennsylvania and New York, he said. Drilling for shale gas occurred in Pennsylvania, while on the New York side there was only the promise that drilling would occur.

The research showed a positive macroeconomic change on the Pennsylvania side because many homeowners in the region where the shale rock was drilled had been compensated, he said.

The energy sector sees widespread use of natural gas, he said.

“Natural gas is used for heating and producing electricity in many parts of the [US],” Hochman said. “Shale gas helps keep the price of these down.”

Even though this new resource is highly utilized and economically efficient, the question of whether or not it is a good resource in terms of the carbon footprint it leaves still exists.

Carl Pray, a distinguished professor in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, said the footprint was measured relative to coal.

“If it’s replacing coal it certainly has positive greenhouse effects,” he said.

In addition to positive environmental and economic effects, it is also good with the political sector, Pray said. Shale gas gives the U.S. a bit of leverage over Russia because it decreases the reliance on oil.

The two primary environmental concerns with shale gas development are air and water contamination, Lang said.

The drilling can cause seepage into water filters, which can be very dangerous to people who reside near drilling locations and rely on the water from that area, such as private wells, he said.

It can also end up in nearby lakes or water bodies and have negative effects to the wildlife that inhabit the surrounding area, he said.

There will be no direct environmental damage in New Jersey because there are no shale deposits underneath the state, he said.

“It’s not perfect,” Pray said.

Despite the environmental concerns with extracting this resource, natural gas can turn out to be a very successful resource, Lang said. 

“At this time, I think in the long term [shale gas] is worth it,” he said.

Darshan Nandha

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