Friday, June 29, 2007

Natural Gas in the Conasauga shale

For several years now, I have been taking students to collect trilobites and other fossils from the Conasauga shale at outcrops near Dalton, Georgia. Around two weeks ago, I was contacted by two different people asking for information about the Conasauga formation that might be useful in fossil fuel exploration. Their calls caught be by surprise because I had not read the recent stories in both the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Birmingham News about the discovery of natural gas along Big Canoe Creek in St. Clair County, Alabama.

Evidently the Conasauga shale contains natural gas in sufficient quantities that several wells are already producing. The area around Ashville, Alabama is being flooded with drillers and speculators buying up mineral rights for energy companies such as Dominion Resources and Energen Company, Inc. As the website indicates, all of this attention is focused on a 40-square-mile, 500,000 acre area referred as The Big Canoe Creek Field. There is a discussion forum "blog" set up on the site, and there has also been a lively discussion of the Conasauga shale play at the Topix Science blog.

As the above map shows, the same Cambrian rocks currently producing natural gas in St. Clair County, Alabama extend eastward into Georgia although they have been folded and faulted in a complex history. The oil and gas potential of Paleozoic rocks of the eastern Appalachians has been recognized in a general sense for decades, and it was one primary justification for the extensive COCORP seismic investigations of the late 1970's. There are now exciting opportunities here in the Southeast for exploration geologists, venture capitalists, and anyone with a knack for making land deals.

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