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11/24/2010
Marcellus Gas Pipe Dreams or Wind Turbines?
There has been a lot of talk about the latest get-rich-quick (GRQ) scheme(s) called Marcellus Tight Shale Gas (MTSG) which is based on a Devonian Shale (350 million years ago) resource. It turns out that this is methane and other hydrocarbons (ethane, propane, benzene, for example) trapped in essentially non-porous rock that have the consistency of a brick. The hydrocarbons will not flow out of this rock unless the rock is fractured in a special way ("fracking"). Quite often, the formation is between 1 to 2 miles underground, and there is often saturated saltwater laden layers on either side of the approximately 100 foot layer (a former swamp/shallow ocean bottom) of shale. The hydrocarbons are not uniformly dispersed at the same concentration in the Marcellus shale formation, so there are regions of hydrocarbon rich shale and other regions without any significant organics (as in hydrocarbon chemicals) content.

These are not easy hydrocarbon reserves to extract, and they also are financially expensive to bring to market compared to "easy gas". But, since most of the easy pickings of natural gas have been developed and are being or have been drained of gas in North America, our hydrocarbon addiction has resulted in a "seeds and stems" situation, where we are getting down to the dregs. If we want to keep using and living large (energy wise), it's time to use up the bottom of the barrel stuff - beggars can't be too choosy, after all.

Anyway, we could spend many large fortunes to extract some of the Marcellus gas (followed by Utica Shale gas as the next hydrocarbon adventure) and in the process make some people really rich as well as a significant number who might be able to cling to a middle class lifestyle for a while. However, keep in mind the fate of mining towns; once the mine has been played out, what remains is a ghost town and quite often a big mess (toxic mine tailings). Once the "sweet spots" in the Marcellus regions have been tapped, then we need to move on to energy resources based on something else, such as something that won't deplete and also cause all kinds of pollution problems. Some say that maybe we should just skip this temporary patch and get on to a viable future. But if we do that, what of the fortunes to be made by the wannabe or already are but not sufficiently so Methane tycoons? Won't they be robbed of their potential methane/hydrocarbon riches based on our collective resource? Or what about the path not chosen - renewable energy - won't those riches go to someone/somewhere else while we tubed our money on Marcellus Pipe Dreams?

(Click to read the entire article)
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