Workshop Report/Summary

Development of Unconventional Hydrocarbon Resources in the Appalachian Basin: (2014)

A growing fraction of the oil and gas produced in the United States comes from unconventional source--geographically extensive accumulations of hydrocarbons in low-permeability rock such as shale or siltstone. Generally, these resources--which include shale gas, coalbed methane, and gas hydrates--are freed from the rock by hydraulic fracturing. However, the consequences of this practice, and other aspects of unconventional hydrocarbon production, have been the topic of intense public debate. Proponents of unconventional hydrocarbon development emphasize issues such as greater energy security, economic development, and lower greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas relative to other fossil fuels. Opponents of unconventional hydrocarbon development identify potential problems such as contamination of surface water and groundwater, fragmentation and loss of habitat, public health effects, and induced seismicity.

At the request of West Virginia University, the National Research Council organized a workshop to examine the unconventional hydrocarbon resources of the Appalachian Basin. Workshop participants were drawn from universities, private companies, federal and state government bodies, and nongovernmental organizations to bring a wide range of expertise and perspectives. Discussions addressed topics including assessment of the resource; technical methods for producing unconventional hydrocarbons and disposing of wastewater; the potential effects of production on the environment; relevant policies and regulations; and priorities for future scientific and engineering research. The planning committee chose to focus on shale gas and tight gas, which are economically important to the Appalachian region and also of intense public interest.