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Marcellus Shale
Protecting Watersheds During Natural Gas Development
Marcellus Shale map 
The Marcellus Shale Formation is one of largest proven reserves of natural gas in the US. Image courtesy of USGS.
Natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale Formation, which underlies most of Pennsylvania and is one of the largest proven reserves of natural gas in the US, has the potential for significant impacts on land and water resources throughout the Commonwealth. Of particular concern are potential impacts on water quality and water consumption in the upper Delaware River basin, the premier source of clean drinking water for millions of people in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. Understanding the potential cumulative effects, using the most comprehensive and authoritative information available, is a critical first step in setting policies that will minimize the environmental impacts of developing this significant energy resource.

Development of “unconventional” shale gas formations generally requires hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), which uses large volumes of water that then must be treated to remove solvents and other pollutants. Spills or leakage of these fracking fluids would have serious impacts on water quality in the Delaware River. Local economies in the middle and upper Delaware River basin are also dependent upon clean water and healthy forests as the basis for outdoor recreation. Land use changes associated with the development of gas wells could lead to widespread forest fragmentation, habitat loss for interior forest species, water quality and quantity impacts, and loss of scenic beauty important to the local economy.

Despite the range of potential impacts, there is only disjointed and inconsistent information available to the general public. Many organizations and entities are active in developing and/or disseminating information to landowners in the Delaware River Basin. This project will not reinvent all of this previous work.  It will draw information together into a single, objective, user-friendly resource to meet the needs of landowners and local governments.

BMP ReportWith funding from the Heinz Endowments, William Penn Foundation, and Nestlé Waters of North America, the Pinchot Institute is working with regional stakeholders through the Common Waters Partnership to facilitate a dialogue about proposed gas development within the watershed, and how to best minimize the potential for impacts on water quality. While it is likely the Marcellus Shale gas field will be developed, there is still significant uncertainty in the region about exactly where development will take place and under what conditions.

In the months ahead, the Pinchot Institute will undertake a series of activities aimed at providing the best available scientific and factual information relating to the development of unconventional natural gas resources, and facilitating a dialogue between the community and the gas companies that is as open and inclusive as possible. In addition, an agreement on critical landscapes where the development of natural gas drilling platforms should be avoided or limited will be developed, and a clear understanding of what questions need to be answered through a follow-on scientific assessment of gas drilling in the region.


Download the BMP report (19mb PDF)


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