News Release

Release Date: December 11, 2017

NETL-Supported Marcellus Shale Energy and Environment Laboratory Improves Natural Gas Recovery Efficiency While Minimizing Environmental Implications


The 104,000-square mile Marcellus natural gas trend—the largest source of natural gas in the United States—was once considered to have inconsequential natural gas potential until new technologies helped industry access an estimated 141 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas. Because more research is required to more completely realize the rich potential of Marcellus Shale natural gas, NETL is helping discover safe and effective natural gas recovery innovations with its work on the Marcellus Shale Energy and Environment Laboratory (MSEEL).

The objective of the Marcellus Shale Energy and Environment Laboratory (MSEEL) is to provide a long-term collaborative field site to develop and validate new knowledge and technology to improve recovery efficiency and minimize environmental implications of unconventional resource development MSEEL represents the first ever comprehensive field study of shale gas resources that gives scientists the opportunity to study the entire process of drilling, hydraulic fracturing, and recovery of Marcellus Shale natural gas. The project is a partnership involving West Virginia University, Northeast Natural Energy and The Ohio State University. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) invested $10.5 million in the project which began in October 2014 and will run through September 2019. NETL is managing the DOE participation.

Prior to any drilling operations, baseline air monitoring and surface water sampling occurred at the well pad site near Morgantown, W.Va. Two production wells and a science observation well were drilled in June 2015. A total of 111 feet of four-inch whole-round core was taken.

According to NETL Federal Project Manager, Robert Vagnetti, “to the best of DOE’s knowledge, this is the only existing core retrieved through the entire vertical span of the Marcellus Shale.”

In addition to the whole-round core, 197 sidewall cores were extracted from the wells. Core samples were subsequently delivered to NETL where they were logged, sampled for Total Organic Content and scanned using high-precision computerized tomography. These fresh samples were then distributed widely to academic and national laboratory scientists throughout the United States for new studies and analyses that were not previously possible.

Since bringing the two wells online, air, gas and produced water samples have been collected continuously for a variety of scientific investigations. In addition to building upon the foundations of scientific knowledge associated with Marcellus Shale natural gas production, the work of MSEEL is informing policymakers as they consider a range of issues surrounding safe access to natural gas. For example, findings from MSEEL analysis have shown that drill cutting radioactivity levels were within West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection standards and that through the use of green drilling fluid, all drill samples passed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s methods for inorganic and organic contaminants. That means that under Federal and West Virginia solid waste rules, these solid wastes would not be considered hazardous and could be disposed of in landfills.

Vagnetti explained that the research-oriented national gas production site is providing a well-documented baseline of production and environmental characterization from its test wells. He said the project’s phased approach allows for additional multiple drilling events and has the flexibility to identify and incorporate new, cost-effective technology and science that is focused on increasing recovery efficiency and reducing environmental and societal impacts.

NETL, DOE’s national laboratory devoted to fossil energy research, has long been recognized as a world leader in the field. With its strategic location in Appalachia, NETL has decades of experience developing and fostering cutting-edge technology to promote efficient and environmentally friendly use of the region’s coal, oil, and gas resources.