As a follow-up to last week’s interview about the Marcellus Shale drilling with environmental scientist Neil Pelkey, I asked Paul Schettler, professor of chemistry, about his opinions concerning gas drilling. Schettler has experience in the gas drilling field as he worked on shale permeability and developed patents for testing for the presence of gas 30 years ago.
You worked on projects related to gas drilling for many years. What most interested you about this field?
Well, I guess I will start in the beginning. I did my undergraduate and post doctorate work on gas chromatography—basically using chemicals absorbed onto salt polymers. In the 1970s a friend of then-president of Juniata John Stauffer who worked for Columbia Gas Corporation informed him of a problem. While drilling wells in the shale they sometimes got gas and other times they didn’t, and they wanted to know why. I agreed to look at the rock and measure the rocks’ capability to absorb gas as a function of pressure. It was similar work to what I had done previously and I was able to provide a model that disproved the prevailing view at that time that shale was impermeable.
When was the horizontal and hydraulic fracturing technology developed?
The method was just starting to develop in the early 1990s—when the funding for our project was just running out. They now drill a curved well bore that goes right alone fractured strata of shale and they can collect gas for miles. It really revolutionized things. One of the things that happened in the ’90s was the price of gas dropped, so it wasn’t economically feasible to drill. Since then, however, gas prices have risen so it has become profitable.
How do you think drilling in the Marcellus Shale will affect the state and local community?
One thing that can be said for sure is getting energy this way will be a lot less damaging to the environment than strip mining. What we were doing 20 years ago when I was involved was drilling lots of little wells and constructing pipes to the system. It seems that having one station might be less damaging than a lot of little sites. The big issue is the contamination of water sources from the use of drilling mud as a lubricant and other materials to make it heavier that they put in. When I was working on this they were just using gas and air compression.
What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of natural gas drilling as opposed to other types of energy sources?
In comparison to coal it’s sulfur-free—it’s clean. It’s also present in the area of the U.S that uses a lot of energy. A disadvantage might be that as a liquid it’s a more convenient source for automobiles. Oil rigs are more convenient than running gas pipes to everyone’s’ houses.
Do you think Pennsylvania’s economy will benefit from Marcellus Shale drilling?
-Joyce Eveleth, ’11, Juniata Online Journalist