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More Research Urged on Marcellus Drilling Impact

Marcellus shale gas well in West Virginia (

Marcellus shale gas well in West Virginia (

The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is calling for a comprehensive research plan that provides guidelines and an assessment tool for regulators and managers in order to minimize the environmental impact of Marcellus Shale gas drilling. Marcellus Shale is a deep geological formation along the east coast of the United States with an estimated 14-year domestic supply of natural gas.

Initial research by Academy scientists and University of Pennsylvania graduate student Frank Anderson show the environmental impact of drilling may be directly related to the amount of drilling in a specific area, known as the density of drilling. Studies were conducted this summer of nine small watersheds in northeastern Pennsylvania -— three in which there had been no drilling, three in which there had been some drilling and three in which there had been a high density of drilling. At each site, they tested the water, and the numbers of certain sensitive insects and salamanders. The presence of salamanders is particularly important ecological early-warning signal, since amphibians are especially vulnerable to changes in the environment.

The results indicate that for each of the measures, there was a significant difference between high-density drilling locations and locations with no drilling or less drilling. The studies showed that water conductivity — which indicates the level of contamination — was almost twice as high in the high density sites as the other sites, and the number of both sensitive insects and salamanders were reduced by 25 percent.

David Velinsky, vice president of the Academy’s environmental research center, says the data are preliminary and that a larger, more comprehensive study must be done before definitive conclusions can be drawn. “There is very little information available as to the impacts of long-term exposure of a watershed to Marcellus Shale drilling activities,” says Velinsky in a press statement, adding “nor do we know if there is a cumulative impact of drilling activity on the ecosystem services of a small watershed.”

The Academy has applied to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Growing Greener Program to fund more comprehensive research.

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