Geology student connects shale research to politics

Geology student Kailey Zalucha came to SIU for science and lab research; now, she’s continuing her lab work into the world of politics.

Zalucha, a senior from Bloomington-Normal, studies a type of rock in the oil industry involved in fracking, a drilling process used to extract oil and gas from the ground.

“I really want to better understand the politics, the economics and the environmental impacts that what I’m [researching] has on the world around me,” Zalucha said.


She said after taking an environmental economics class, which focuses on laws and public policy on environmental procedures, she wanted to know what happened after she finished her research.

“It inspired me to take what I was doing a step further,” she said.

For a year, Zalucha has analyzed, polished and blasted light onto a type of rock called shale in an attempt to see if they may be able to release oil and gas.

Those shales can contain bits of wood from trees, and when Zalucha shines a white light off of her samples, she can measure the reflectance of compounds in the woods that bounce that light back.

From there, she can determine if that shale could potentially release oil or gas as wood like all living organisms contains large amounts of carbon needed to produce the substances.

Zalucha said she’s already spoken with Republican Senator Jason Barickman about how Illinois lawmakers pass fracking laws.

Those processes can be tightly regulated not only by state laws but by local laws as well, she said.


Zalucha said the controversial practice has a lot of checkpoints it must pass through before it is permitted.

The state’s first fracking permit was issued in September, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. A November article by the Chicago Tribune, however, reported the company with the permit wouldn’t move forward with fracking because “burdensome and costly” regulations.

“I think it’s important that we help bridge the gap between scientists, politicians, economists and the public,” Zalucha said. “Personally, I want to help connect those things to better understand it.”

Zalucha specifically looks at the New Albany Shale, a type of rock that is found in the Illinois Basin, which covers southern Illinois as well as portions of Kentucky and Indiana.

Her mentor, geology professor Sue Rimmer, said their findings show their target areas may not have a high potential to recover oil or gas.

“They are fracking targets, both in the Appalachian Basin and here,” Rimmer said. “The kind of work that Kailey is doing is helping us to refine what we call the maturation level, which means if you put a well into it, would it produce oil? Would it produce gas?”

Rimmer, who said she’s been studying shales for over three decades, works with three graduate students in addition to Zalucha.

Zalucha will graduate this semester but she said she’s applied to SIU to work toward her masters degree while in Rimmer’s lab.

In the meantime, she said she’s working to speak with more lawmakers about creating fracking policies.

“I’ve found that the more questions I have answered, the more questions I have overall,” she said.

Staff writer Cory Ray can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @coryray_de.

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