47th Annual AAPG-SPE Eastern Section Joint Meeting

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Potential for Recovery of Uranium from the Marcellus Shale


Organic-rich shale has been recognized in the United States as a potentially significant resource of uranium since the early 1950’s, with investigations of the Chattanooga oil shale. Processes have been demonstrated to recover oil and uranium by retort, and uranium has been recovered by acid dissolution. The Chattanooga shale is recognized as a major world uranium province, with estimated reserves of 5,000 t of uranium, but there has been no commercial production. Internationally, uranium has been produced from organic-rich shale, in Sweden and Germany. The Marcellus Shale has not been studied as a potential resource of uranium. This paper takes a semi-quantitative look at the potential uranium resource that could be developed because of drilling the Marcellus shale for natural gas. Currently, the cuttings from Marcellus wells are being disposed of in landfills, losing potentially recoverable uranium. It is estimated that a typical horizontal lateral will produce about 178,000 kg (392,423 lbs) of cuttings. From this volume of cuttings, it is feasible to recover around 4.6 kg (10.1 lbs) of Uranium. At current prices (US$23/lb), this amount of Uranium is worth US$232.00 (gross) per well. To date, around 5,900 horizontal Marcellus wells have been drilled. Potentially 27,140 kg (59,833 lbs.) of uranium have been discarded in landfills, a potential unrealized revenue of over US$1.4 MM (gross.) Consistently drilling in the zones of highest gamma ray readings, typically the lower Marcellus, could more than double the amount of uranium recovered. Other high value elements, e.g., cobalt, vanadium and molybdenum, could also be recovered from the Marcellus, increasing the potential revenue stream.