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Washington, DC - A technology to remotely monitor conditions at energy-rich Marcellus Shale gas wells to help insure compliance with environmental requirements has been developed through a research partnership funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

NETL-RUA researcher Dr. Michael McCawley hasdeveloped a technology to remotely monitor theenvironment around energy-rich Marcellus Shale gas wells. Photo courtesy of West Virginia University.The technology - which involves three wireless monitoring modules to measure volatile organic compounds, dust, light and sound - is currently being tested at a Marcellus Shale drilling site in Washington County, Pa. It was developed by Dr. Michael McCawley, a research associate professor in West Virginia University’s (WVU) Department of Community Medicine, as part of the National Energy Technology Laboratory’s Regional University Alliance for Energy Technology Innovation (NETL-RUA). NETL is the research laboratory for DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy.

Shale gas is natural gas trapped inside formations of shale, fine-grained sedimentary rocks that can be rich sources of petroleum and natural gas. Shale gas production, which has increased twelve-fold over the past decade according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, is contributing to a rejuvenation of domestic natural gas supply. The Marcellus formation is a large shale deposit (estimated to be a third of the nation’s recoverable resource) located in the subsurface beneath much of Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York, and smaller areas of Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.

The project is significant because it streamlines a process to remotely monitor shale gas well drilling sites in areas where the terrain typically hinders monitoring and the lack of nearby power and phone lines makes traditional monitoring difficult. Having remote monitoring available becomes even more significant considering that West Virginia, for example, has more than 1,400 Marcellus Shale gas wells and permits have been issued for 1,200 more.

Modules consisting of a radio transceiver, a 12-voltbattery-powered monitoring device, and a battery,all encased in a bright orange box, measurevolatile organic compounds, dust, light, and sound. Photo courtesy of West Virginia University.Although the number of possible monitors that can be networked is virtually unlimited, the remote monitoring system at the Washington County site consists of three wireless monitoring modules. Each module consists of a radio transceiver, a 12-volt battery-powered monitoring device, and a battery, all encased in a bright orange box. A 2-foot by 5-foot solar panel maintains the battery charge, even on cloudy days. A base station module, which houses a notebook-sized computer with a cell phone modem, receives data from the monitoring devices and facilitates the remote monitoring, which can be accessed from a desktop computer at WVU.

Prior to the drilling effort in Washington County, WVU had been testing the remote, wireless system for the past year. Its success during testing demonstrates its ability to be a cost-effective, portable, user-friendly, off-the-shelf technology applicable to a variety of monitoring projects. To date, at least one major company has demonstrated an interest in the technology.

NETL has spearheaded efforts to develop technologies associated with shale gas extraction, monitoring, and environmental protection. NETL has historically collaborated with industry to advance horizontal drilling techniques by drilling the first-ever Appalachian Basin directional shale well, as well as introducing techniques such as hydraulic fracturing to eastern shales. Associated with these advances, NETL has addressed environmental concerns by studying air emissions at drilling sites and other environmental issues.

NETL-RUA was formed in 2010 as a partnership between NETL and a consortium of five mid-Atlantic universities: West Virginia University, Carnegie Mellon, Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh, and Virginia Tech. The NETL-RUA research program assists NETL in conducting basic and applied energy and environmental research that supports DOE’s mission to advance U.S. national, economic, and energy security. Working with the region’s commercial energy sector, NETL-RUA researchers aid in the deployment of new technologies, thereby stimulating regional economic development, spurring high-tech job creation nationwide, and fostering the education of America’s new energy leaders.


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