Published December 1977 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd Prehistoric Energy Riches in West Virginia Hidden below the surface of the ground in West Virginia and other Appalachian states is an energy resource which has the potential of providing 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year--about 5 percent of the current level of natural gas production of the nation. At the present time, most of that natural gas is trapped in Devonian Brown shale, a geologic formation laid down 350 million years ago. At that time in the prehistoric history of the area, the high mountains to the east, rising out of what is now the Atlantic coastline, produced mud and silt and sand through erosion. This organic-rich mud flowed down into the Appalachian Basin, shifting back and forth in what geologists call the Catskill Delta. The organic material collected in long fingers; in later centuries other rocks and layers of sand covered this material, folding it within the shale layers of the Devonian period. As early as 1820, a well was drilled down into this Brown shale to release the natural gas. Since that time, other wells have produced gas, usually for local use. The technology for drilling and retrieving this hidden natural gas in an economical manner had not been developed until recent years. Today's energy shortages have renewed interest in drilling for Brown shale natural gas, however. The current Energy Research and Development budget includes money for exploring and drilling, as well as money f o r experimental horizontal and deviation drilling to increase production capabilities. A new report by the Office of Technology Assessment estimates that it will take twenty years to develop the pipelines and wells to make full use of this unused Appalachian energy. The decline in natural gas discoveries and production in conventional gas fields in recent years has now made the Appalachian Basin Brown shale fields economically practical. The conservative estimate of OTA is that 15 to 25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas is available in the 163,000 square miles of the Appalachian Basin. If fully developed, these Devonian Brown shale natural gas wells would encourage energy - intensive industry to relocate within the Appalachian region. In addition, this new source for natural gas would help to fill the needs of the New England and Middle Atlantic states which are running short of natural gas.