Mt. Lebanon library hosts Marcellus Shale program for kids

Published Jan 21, 2013 at 1:21 pm (Updated Jan 21, 2013 at 1:21 pm)

The subject of Marcellus Shale and the gas that can be gathered from it was the topic of a program geared toward kids at the Mt. Lebanon Public Library.

The program was presented by RiverQuest, a non-profit educational organization based in Pittsburgh that operated a river learning center for students. The organization, founded in 1991, also has a boat, “The Explorer,” docked near the Carnegie Science Center and students can learn about rivers while riding on the boat.

The program at the library on Jan. 20 was presented by Dani Stump, an outreach educator with RiverQuest. The program was funded from grants from the State Department of Environmental Protection and the EQT Foundation.

“We take a neutral position,” Stump said of RiverQuest and its educational programs offered to kids and adults. “We want to educate, not advocate one way or another.”

Stump told the group that shale is a sedimentary rock that is formed by sediment deposits. She also had samples of Marcellus Shale to pass out to the group. She said that when the shale was formed, organisms like plankton that had been living there at the time formed pore spaces. That pore space is where the gas is trapped, Stump said.

“In southwestern Pennsylvania, the shale is about a mile down,” Stump said, adding that in Erie the shale is about three-quarters of a mile underground. She said the depths vary because of how the sediment laid down in an inland sea that was in this area long ago.

Stump also talked about how in the Pittsburgh area there are not many drilling sites for Marcellus Shale – the sites are in more rural areas. “Drilling needs space,” she said, adding that drilling pads are usually constructed on at least five acres of land.

The challenges of getting to the gas were also discussed. “The shale has to be fractured to get the gas out,” she said, which can be difficult because the shale layer is horizontal.

Stump said the first fracturing process involves making small fractures with a perforating gun and injecting high pressure air into those fractures. The process known as hydraulic fracturing involves injecting sand, water and chemicals further down in the well. She said about five million gallons of water are used to fracture a well. Of those five million gallons, 0.49 percent are the chemicals, which can include n-dimethyl formaldehyde, guar gum, citric acid, and isopropyl alcohol. She stressed that is a small number of the chemicals used because many companies do not disclose their “recipe.”

After a well is done being fractured, Stump said 30 to 80 percent of the water comes back up initially. She said items that come up with the water include heavy metals and salts.

Stump demonstrated how the salts and other chemicals get left behind in the water by making her own “frack” water out of water, salt, food coloring and glitter. Karolina Karaeyozova, 14, of Point Breeze, strained out the frack water using cotton balls and window screen. After it was strained, Stump checked the salinity of the water and it was still high.

“It is a major issue companies have to address,” Stump said about the materials that dissolve in the water and then come back up to the surface. She said currently the best practice of companies is to recycle the frack water.

Stump also talked about the opportunity that the Marcellus Shale gas can bring, which she said includes money, jobs, habitat reclamation and a source of fuel that is local. However, Stump said some challenges include accidental spills and leaks, air pollution, health impacts, and erosion.

Information on RiverQuest can be found at

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