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WVU extension service offers information on shale drilling

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To help siphon through all the information regarding the issues of gas and oil, help is on the way.

Through the West Virginia University Extension Service, the public can gain a better understanding of oil and gas issues through the multiple educational programs the Extension Service offers.

The service's Agriculture and Natural Resources Program Unit team provides educational programming about natural gas exploration in the Marcellus Shale that is made available to the public. Team members are extension agents, WVU geologists, water quality experts, representatives of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and representatives from industry, community and environmental groups. 

"We provide scientific-based factual information regarding the rules, regulations and laws," said Georgette Plaugher, WVU program coordinator. "We put together programs for the public that are available to anyone (and are) unbiased information."

According to the Extension Service's website, West Virignia is home to one of the largest Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits on the East Coast. It lies beneath the surface of Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York. Also containing small areas of the Marcellus shale are Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.

The Extension Service hosts educational programs within counties and across the state, with the southern region having had a few programs.

Some of the goals the University Extension website states are to create a network of extension personnel and other professionals to become a statewide resource in assisting residents who have resource concerns and questions regarding gas production and to provide non-biased, research-based educational material and programming to state residents.

In the southern region, most drillers use conventional drilling methods, as opposed to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. 

Conventional drilling involves a source rock, which is a specific rock unit where gas forms. The gas leaves the rock unit for lower pressure and is trapped by a reservoir. 

To acquire the gas using conventional drilling, reservoirs of natural gas are found and then drilled into to extract the gas.

In horizontal drilling, a well bore, which is the hole that the well makes under the surface, is angled until it is horizontal. 

Then, the well can be drilled horizontally. It can be drilled for thousands of feet, which provides access to thin or compacted reservoirs that conventional drilling can't reach. 

Hydraulic fracturing is a process that forces liquid into a gas-containing rock under high pressure. The fractures caused by the pressure form pathways for the natural gas to escape through the well bores. 

In the Marcellus Shale, the water is mixed with chemicals and sand and the actual process of fracturing occurs in three stages. 

The Extension Service offers presentations on safety at natural gas well sites, regulation issues, environmental impacts, landowner information and air, water and health concerns.