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FOCUSED: Lisa Andresky, a Slippery Rock University environmental science major from Beaver, examines a specimen of gypsum in Advanced Technology and Science Hall. She is involved in a National Science Foundation research project on the Marcellus shale.

Student researcher examines
natural gas drilling impact

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - There is big money and big controversy in drilling for natural gas in Pennsylvania and other states. Lisa Andresky, a Slippery Rock University environmental science major from Beaver, has been researching the potential environmental impact by participating in a National Science Foundation-funded research project.

Andresky has been examining the chemical content of the Marcellus shale, a massive rock formation and large source of natural gas that stretches from New York to West Virginia.

"The way that drilling companies extract gas from the Marcellus is through hydrological fracturing," she said. "They pump thousands of gallons of water into the ground and this pressure factures the shale, releasing natural gas that can be collected. The problem is that adding so much water into the ground changes the way minerals like pyrite become oxidized, and acid mine draining winds up in drinking wells and other water bodies."

Andresky is one of 10 students in the country who was accepted into the Ecosystem Restoration through Interdisciplinary Exchange Research Experience for Undergraduates program hosted by the University of Buffalo. She collaborated with Tracy Banks, a University of Buffalo geology professor.

"I looked at the mineralogy and trace element chemistry of the Marcellus," Andresky said. "Basically, people want to know what is really in the Marcellus."

The entire Marcellus shale formation could contain up to 490 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to 2009 study by the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Pennsylvania State University. The study shows that the Marcellus gas industry in Pennsylvania accounted for 29,000 jobs in 2008 and $240 million in state and local taxes.