State Water Resources Research Institute Program


Project ID: 2010DE187B
Title: An Analysis of the Impact of Marcellus Shale Development on Water Resources in Pennsylvania
Project Type: Research
Start Date: 6/01/2010
End Date: 2/28/2011
Congressional District: At large
Focus Categories: Law, Institutions, and Policy, Non Point Pollution, Groundwater
Keywords: natural gas drilling, water supply, water quality, pollution
Principal Investigators: Johnson, Janet; Galasso, Aidan
Federal Funds: $ 1,500
Non-Federal Matching Funds: $ 3,000
Abstract: The Marcellus Shale formation underlies approximately two-thirds of the state of Pennsylvania and is believed to hold trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. Interest in developing this resource has escalated sharply in recent years: according to the PA Department of Environmental Protection the industry is expected to apply for 5,200 drilling permits in 2010, up from approximately 2100 issued in 2009 and compared to only 4 permits issued in 2005. The State has leased about 692,000 acres of state forest land to natural gas drilling companies and the industry has signed many leases on privately owned lands as well. The first well in Pennsylvania's Marcellus region went into production in 2005. In 2008, there were 195 wells drilled in Marcellus Shale. By the end of August, 329 were drilled in 2009 according to state statistics. There is substantial concern about the environmental consequences of Marcellus Shale development, especially its impact on water resources. Natural gas well construction involves extensive earth disturbance including roads, drilling pads and pipelines prompting concerns about erosion. Typically, drill pads are 3-4 acres which are clear cut. To extract the gas, a process known as hydraulic fracturing is used. In this process a combination of water, sand, and chemicals are injected into the shale layer. There are multiple concerns about the impact of hydraulic fracturing on water resources, both quality and quantity. The process uses lots of water - approximately 3 million gallons per well so groundwater supplies and surface water flows may be changed. In addition to water, sand and chemicals are injected into the well. The potential for groundwater contamination exists from leaking wells and from hydraulic fluids remaining trapped in the ground. Extracted hydraulic fluids may spill and contaminate nearby surface waters. Extracted fluids are stored in waste pits which may leak. The specific objectives of this research are: (1) to determine the potential impact of drilling activities on water resources in the State of Pennsylvania and (2) to determine the adequacy of Pennsylvania's regulatory framework and the adequacy of resources devoted to the regulation of Marcellus Shale drilling activities.

Progress/Completion Report, 2010, PDF

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