In 2014, the natural gas industry, along with the University of Kentucky and Kentucky Geological Society, got excited about the possibility of developing a previously unrecoverable shale gas deposit in eastern Kentucky called the Rogersville shale. Nearly 2 miles deep, this shale formation is only now accessible through what the industry refers to as "unconventional" approaches - meaning fracking. To get at the gas, very large amounts of water, along with toxic chemicals and fine sand, are injected into wells at very high pressures to fracture the bedrock and extract the gas. Along with the gas, tremendous amounts of wastewater laden with brine, cancer causing chemicals, and various hydrocarbons comes back to the surface creating a variety of hazards. According to the Kentucky Geological Society:
"The potential of unconventional shale gas reservoirs has become the focus of exploration in many onshore US basins. The Rogersville Shale has suitable thickness, mineralogy, organic content, and thermal maturity to potentially produce gas or liquids if fractured to improve permeability...
"Interest in the unconventional resource potential of the Rogersville is increasing. Two deep tests have been permitted in the last year. The Bruin Exploration No. 1 Young well in Lawrence County, Ky., was permitted to 15,000 ft. in the Rome Formation, and drilled in late 2013. Results of this well are being held confidential, but it appears to have tested a deep zone, and is currently shut-in."
"ABARTA is currently working on a potential new shale play in Kentucky called the Rogersville shale. This is a brand new shale that has never produced commercial gas, but information from some old deep test wells indicate potential for vast reserves at great depths. The Rogersville shale is even older and deeper than the Marcellus or Utica shales and is Cambrian age (+500 million years). This makes the potential shale play extremely risky and expensive, but the rewards could also be extreme! The Rogersville shale play is located in a deep, narrow sub basin in eastern Kentucky called the Rome Trough. Drilling depths will likely be about 2 miles deep! It is anticipated that this deeper basin has preserved organic rich shales and a resource play can be established."
In late 2014, "land men" representing previously unheard of development companies with no track records or history to point to began soliciting lease agreements in Madison, Rockcastle, and Jackson counties. However, the extent of speculation is probably much wider that we currently know.