Reducing Damage from Natural Gas Drilling
In the coming years, as many as five thousand wells may be drilled across northern and western Pennsylvania for natural gas. These new wells will be drilled into a rock formation known as Marcellus shale, where potentially big reserves of natural gas can be found deep underground.
This drilling could be an economic boon for the state…but unless it is done right, it could also be an environmental nightmare. We don’t want to make the same mistakes from the coal “gold rush” in the last century…mistakes like “dead” streams and polluted rivers that we are still paying to clean up!
Marcellus shale wells are very different from traditional natural gas wells. Not only are they much deeper and bigger, but they pose new dangers to our natural resources.
- They use much more water, up to several million gallons per well. If this water is pulled out of nearby streams, it could de-water them, killing all the fish that live in them.
- They produce a million or more gallons each of heavily polluted water…water that is several times more salty than the ocean! Right now, the only “treatment” is to dilute this water with fresh water. In the long term, this water must be treated before being discharged; otherwise, our streams could be overwhelmed, our fish poisoned and our drinking water made unusable.
- The well pads are bigger than normal, up to 5 acres each. Thousands of these wells located in pristine parts of the state, and the roads and pipelines needed to connect them, could damage streams and fragment our forest habitat.
- Air pollution from the chemicals stored at the well site and soot from the hundreds of trips per year by big diesel trucks can cause health problems for nearby residents.
Some damage has already been done. Several streams in Western Pennsylvania were dried up by drillers who pulled out all their water. Late in 2008, industrial users and drinking water consumers along the Monongahela River were warned not to use the water because it was too polluted, in part from discharges of contaminated water from Marcellus shale wells.
With all the money at stake from this drilling, there is huge pressure on state agencies like the Department of Environmental Protection to relax the rules and make it easier for drillers. The PA Campaign for Clean Water is pressing DEP to enforce its existing rules and to strengthen the standards to make sure that our environment is protected.