Drilling on The Domain?

Tue, 19 Mar 2013 10:57:00 CDT  — by: Jane Brown, C'13


Recent conversations are tackling the prospect of the University potentially drilling for natural gas on the Domain, noting the potential for locally sourced natural gas extraction. However, drilling done on February 22nd will be strictly for educational and research purposes. Previously, Sewanee met with geologists and other consultants to consider the possibility for hydraulic fracturing “fracking” on the Domain, with proponents arguing in favor of a source of local natural gas, as opposed to natural gas transported form a distant location. However, this proposal has been shelved for now, citing the University’s commitment to sustainability. Presently, drilling on the Domain will be for research use only.

‌‌drill_oneThe new 120-foot well is located behind Rebels Rest, above the south side of the Abbo’s Alley watershed. The site was determined by  a Forestry & Geology senior field study group. The drill was used to penetrate rock layers just below the water table. The Forestry & Geology departments had students on hand to observe the noisy drilling process. Majors from Environmental Chemistry, Geology, Forestry, Natural Resources, Environmental Policy, and International & Global Studies, along with two geology professsors- Dr. Knoll and Dr. Shaeffer, witnessed the drilling sporting hard hats. Students viewed the sedimentary structures as the drill plowed into Sewanee Conglomerate, through the Signal Point Shale, and into the Warren Point Sandstone- where the well terminated.‌

drill_threeWater used for pumping out debris (ground up by the drill)  created mini-cataclysms of liquid sediment in layers for the students to analyze. Interestingly, when the Signal Point Shale was penetrated, a huge gush of water upwelled from the hole, even before the water table was hit. The influx was determined to be water laying on top of a fractured zone of an uneven bedding plane. Also noticeable were small amounts of oil in the shale  that created black transparent pockets on the surface. These oily deposits came from organic material, trapped within the layers of the Signal Point Shale.

The drilling provided an excellent opportunity for students to examine their studies in a practical application. The well will provide water sampling, water level sampling, age dating, and along with the two other wells on campus, to determine ground water flow direction.

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