In 2012, we first wrote about the impact of the Marcellus Shale mining activity on the availability of Pennsylvania Bluestone. Since that time, as predicted, the issue has become more severe. The original article with minor updates appears below. The key factors are the reduction in operating bluestone quarries and cost of labor for those still in operation. The result is increasing prices and decreasing supply.
Bluestone is a fascinating and complicated natural stone native to Pennsylvania (for whom the material is named), New Jersey and parts of New York. Bluestone has many options to consider in designing and installing your outdoor living project. But, if you have decided on the uniquely beautiful bluestone, you must also deal with the issues of quality and availability.
Quality: The primary quality consideration occurs in natural clef flagstone, both pattern and irregular. Because the appealing unique surface of natural clef flagstone is formed by natural forces, the consistency of that surface is unpredictable. Some pieces can exhibit huge variation in thickness, dramatic shifts in surface texture, even natural warping creating a bowed rather than flat piece. Some people find this variation exotic and attractive, some do not. If you are looking for flagstone with the flattest surface, the least variation in surface and thickness, you are looking for the rarest material.
Availability: The Marcellus Shale discovery is emerging to hold the potential of huge quantities of natural gas. The Marcellus shale deposit runs under most of Pennsylvania, Virginia as well as parts of eastern Ohio and western New York. This deposit is also under most of the Pennsylvania bluestone quarries. Although the solution to economically converting this deposit to marketable natural gas is not complete, the promise is compelling. And speculators and gas companies are paying large sums for the rights to this energy source. As a result, many quarries are shutting down no longer needing the income from stone or no longer able to find workers who have better paying options in the natural gas field.
The many Bluestone quarries still in production face the problem of rising costs in other ways than labor. As the quarries are excavated, the deeper stone costs more and takes longer to extract and produce.
When you look at the combination of quality and availability, the rule of supply and demand is at work in the bluestone market. Prices have risen the last two years. Expect continued price increases, and expect shortages of selected varieties of flagstone materials.
When shopping for Pennsylvania bluestone, look for dealers who are investing in maintaining relationships with multiple quarries, in building inventory to meet future demand, and in finding and offering a full range of quality flagstone products.