30 Years: Thanks to Marcellus Shale, 'fracking' becomes a household word

Part of the 30 Years, 30 Changes series on the Pittsburgh region

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The Marcellus Shale preceded the founding of Pittsburgh by a good 350 million years. The rock layer laid safely tucked a mile underground until in the early 2000s, when the shale gas -- through a combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing -- began its ascent to stardom. Now it all but defines the region.

Pennsylvania has been an oil and gas producing state since the late 1800s. Thirty years ago, gas wells in Pennsylvania pumped out a respectable 118 billion cubic feet of gas in a year. Now, more than twice that much flows out of shale wells in southwestern Pennsylvania in six months.

Along with the gas came the industry. Shale operators such as Range Resources Corp., Talisman Energy Inc., Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. established regional headquarters in the Pittsburgh area, and earlier this year, Chevron announced it might build a regional headquarters in Moon.

When the operators arrived, their contractors -- firms with hefty names such as Halliburton, Schlumberger, Weatherford -- followed suit. Gas processing companies such as MarkWest Energy Partners, have come here and pumped more than $1 billion into pipelines and plants that separate the natural gas liquids found in this area's gas stream. It's those kinds of plants that would feed the proposed Royal Dutch Shell ethane cracker.

The transnational giant is evaluating whether to build a multibillion facility in Beaver County that would convert the ethane extracted from the Marcellus Shale into the basic building blocks for petrochemicals.

-- Anya Litvak

region

Anya Litvak: alitvak@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1455. First Published October 12, 2013 8:00 PM


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