Three West Virginia University graduate students are investigating the Marcellus Shale and the Appalachian Foreland Basin to help scientists better locate and extract natural gas.

Jessica Hayward, Elise Swan and Tom Donahoe, students in the Department of Geology, are using advanced technology to pursue thesis research. With funding from the Energy Corporation of America (ECA), the graduate students gained access to essential resources necessary to conduct their work.

Hayward, a second-year graduate student from North Huntingdon, Pa., is researching the ash beds within the Marcellus Shale formation. Using rock core samples from it, Hayward is trying to identify the ages of each layer within the formation and the length of time it takes for the shale to deposit.

Hayward has traveled to Stanford University to use its Sensitive High Resolution Ion Micro Probe (SHRIMP) lab to analyze zircon grains from the rock core samples. This analysis will tell her the ages of the different layers of rock.

“It’s a pretty amazing opportunity to use Stanford’s SHRIMP lab, and I’m glad that ECA has provided me the rock core so that I can complete this research,” Hayward said.

Swan, a third-semester graduate student from Baton Rouge, La., is focusing on how faults underneath and within the Marcellus Shale formation affect the location and extraction of natural gas. Using modeling techniques, she can determine how faults have formed over time.

She also is using Light Detection and Ranging data—collected by using remote sensing technology from a plane—to locate where faults may extend to the surface.

“Faults can provide natural cracks within the Marcellus, which have the possibility of helping in extraction, or they reach the surface and may indicate where the gas has traveled through the faults and escaped at the surface, which would mean no gas would be found in that location,” Swan said.

Donahoe, a third-year graduate student from North Huntingdon, Pa., is applying a software module developed at WVU to uncover a more robust interpretation of subsurface structures, including folds, faults and fractures, pertinent to the location and extraction of natural resources. Additionally, properties of rocks and stress orientations that are significant to developing well locations and horizontal well drilling directions may be defined by this work.

“This research may help to define the usefulness of advanced technologies to future exploration and development of natural gas resources in the region,” Donahoe said.

For more information, contact Tim Carr, professor of geology, at (304) 293-9660 or



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