National, Eel, Luquillo, Shale Hills, INVESTIGATOR, COLLABORATOR
Shale has become highly important on the world stage because it can host natural gas. In addition, shale is now targeted as a formation that can host repositories for disposal of radioactive waste. This newly recognized importance of shale has driven increased research into the nature of this unusual material. Much of this research incorporates characterization tools that probe shale at scales from nanometers to millimeters. Many of the talks in this Union session discuss these techniques and how scientists use them to understand how they impact the flow of fluids at larger scales. Another research avenue targets how material properties affect soil formation on this lithology and how water quality is affected in sedimentary basins where shale gas resources are under development. For example, minerals in shale are dominated by clays aligned along bedding. As the shales are exhumed and exposed at the surface during weathering, bedding planes open and fractures and microfractures form, allowing outfluxes or influxes of fluids. These phenomena result in specific patterns of fluid flow and, eventually, soil formation and landscape development. Specifically, in the Marcellus Formation gas play – the largest shale gas play in the U.S.A. – exposures of the shale at the surface result in deep oxidation of pyrite and organic matter, deep dissolution of carbonates, and relatively shallow alteration of clays. Micron-sized particles are also lost from all depths above the oxidation front. These characteristics result in deeply weathered and quickly eroded landscapes, and may also be related to patterns in water quality in shale gas plays. For example, across the entire Marcellus shale gas play in Pennsylvania, the single most common water quality issue is contamination by natural gas. This contamination is rare and is observed to be more prevalent in certain areas. These areas are likely related to shale material properties and geological structure. Specifically, natural gas moves along opening bedding planes as well as through faults and other larger scale geologic structures within basins. Understanding how shale acts as a material at all depths from that of fracking to that of the forest will enhance our ability to power our societal needs, dispose of our wastes, and sustain our water and soil resources.
Brantley, S.L. and Gu, X. (2017): Shale across Scales from the Depths of Sedimentary Basins to Soil and Water at Earth’s Surface (Invited). 2017 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, New Orleans, LA, 11-15 Dec .
This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.