Maryland’s Got Gas: Part 1.


More specifically, Maryland’s got shale.

In addition, besides the Chesapeake Bay, the State of Maryland has farmland, mountains and increasingly more densely populated areas that share in the economic benefits of Metropolitan Washington, DC. For a number of years, the state has been looking for ways to create economic development in its “panhandle” region. This is the part of the state that stretches west through Frederick, Washington, Allegany and Garrett Counties crossing into the heart of the Appalachian Mountains.

These mountains are very old and very worn. Hundreds of millions of years ago, these ranges were believed to have been as high as the Himalayan Mountains are today. After millions of years of weathering, today’s range average around 3,000 ft (900 m) in height. The highest of the group (Mount Mitchell in North Carolina) is just over 6,600 feet (2,030 m) and is also the highest point in the United States east of the Mississippi River. No longer do these rival the Himalayas or the Rockies and Andes, and not even the Alps in height and rugged beauty.

To learn more about the geology of the Appalachians, I suggest: Structural Geology of the Appalachian Mountains by James Aber.

But this is not about scenic beauty.

This Maryland Topographic Map shows the shape and location of the state and its counties. The two most western counties of Allegany and Garrett sit atop one of the largest shale gas reserves in the United States – the Marcellus Formation.

The following link will give two perspectives on this shale formation. The first – Marcellus Shale Coalition is important because it is designed to promote the economic benefits coupled with the need to “get it right”. Articles under “Newsroom” will provide a variety of comments worth reading. There is little doubt that all parties are sincere about avoiding catastrophic failure during “fracking”. I covered this in a previous post: The Risks and Rewards of Natural Gas.

A second link: Marcellus Shale – Appalachian Basin Natural Gas Play - provides a similar graphic (to the first link) of the Marcellus Formation with a lot of supplemental detail. You will notice a reference to Devonian Shale (green shaded). To understand the significance of the Devonian Period, I refer you to the following link: The Devonian Period. Imagine that during this period, the Earth had only three major continental land masses.

North America and Europe sat together near the equator, much of their current land underneath seas. To the north lay a portion of modern Siberia. A composite continent of South America, Africa, Antarctica, India, and Australia dominated the southern hemisphere.

But this is not about geology.

This is very much about economics.

What is the economic potential of the Marcellus Formation?

In early 2008, Terry Englander, a geoscience professor at Pennsylvania State University, and Gary Lash, a geology professor at the State University of New York at Fredonia, surprised everyone with estimates that the Marcellus might contain more than 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Using some of the same horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing methods that had previously been applied in the Barnett Shale of Texas, perhaps 10% of that gas (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 one trillion dollars!

With this potential now exposed, there is renewed pressure for the State of Maryland and industry to look at the feasibility to capitalize on this underground potential. Perhaps, this can be the catalyst to restore a plan to bring economic development to the “panhandle” region of the state?

It is in this scenario where the delicate balance between political integrity and capitalism must come together. Add to this scenario, the degraded Federal, State and Local governments revenue models from the recent financial crisis, and another perfect storm is on the rise.

On the surface, there should be more reason for optimism than concern. Natural gas, a “cleaner” fuel than coal or oil, would have more atmospheric benefits. Developing domestic reserves would have a beneficial impact on towering trade deficits, would reduce our dependency on foreign energy supplies and would contribute positively to regional employment and business development opportunities.

The coal belt of Eastern United States been diminished in value to reserves in the Western States for a number of legitimate reasons. Details of this transformation can be found in: Coal Production in the United States – An Historical Overview.

It is clear that the economics of such a large reserve are now higher than ever.

The next post will focus on the environmental concerns of this endeavor.


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