Mapping the Shale Gas Boom (Smithsonian)

Equipment used in natural gas operations stands atop the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania. (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons user Ruhrfisch)

Equipment used in natural gas operations stands atop the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania. (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons user Ruhrfisch)

For Smithsonian.com, I worked with ESRI to put together an interactive map that tracks the shale gas boom in the United States. Clicking around the map reveals where energy companies are using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to force tightly trapped oil and gas from fine-grained sedimentary rocks known as shale. You can explore which states are leading production, see which companies are involved, and zoom in to find wells in a local area.

I would have loved to have this type of map at my fingertips when I was reporting a story about California’s Monterey shale for National Geographic earlier this year, trying to get a clear picture of who’s who and where the Golden State’s latest energy rush is unfolding.

Worldwide, rapidly increasing production from shales in recent years has transformed the energy landscape. Nearly a third of all natural gas resources globally are now believed to exist in shale formations, and shale gas production could more than double by 2040. For better or worse, it is a combination of relatively high oil prices and technology that have paved the way—primarily horizontal drilling and fracking, but also advances in 3D seismic imaging, sensors, and other innovations.

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