The Potential Environmental Impact from Fracking in the Delaware River Basin

CNA for the Delaware Riverkeeper Network / by Steven Habicht, Lars Hanson and Paul Faeth

[The Intelligencer] As many as 4,000 fracking wells could be drilled in Pennsylvania and New York should current moratoriums be lifted, according to a report released Tuesday.

The study, conducted by the nonprofit research and analysis firm CNA, of Arlington, Virginia, focused on the interior Marcellus region within the Delaware River Basin. Most of the natural gas development is likely to occur in a few counties in eastern Pennsylvania and New York, said Paul Faeth, director of CNA’s energy, water and climate division.

Delaware Riverkeeper Network, which opposes fracking in the basin, funded the study. The network’s director, Maya van Rossum, said her nonprofit spent about $120,000 on the study.

In 2010, the Delaware River Basin Commission initiated a de-facto moratorium on drilling when it voted to stop making any decisions on gas drilling until regulations were established.

Based on projected well numbers and locations in the interior Marcellus region, the CNA study examined the effect of natural gas development on land cover, water and wastewater management, water and air quality and health risk factors.

Among the study’s findings:

  • The total area of land disturbed, based on “full build-out” would be about 18 to 26 square miles.
  • Development of natural gas infrastructure, including well pads and right of way for access roads and gas lines used to collect gas from wells, results in 17 to 23 acres of land disturbance per well pad. There could be between 500 and 1,000 well pads.
  • Water withdrawals during the height of well development could remove up to 70 percent of water from small streams during low-flow conditions; less than 3 percent during normal flow.
  • Installation of multiple compressor stations to support gas development could double nitrogen oxide emissions in the affected counties.
  • Roughly 45,000 people live within 1 mile of the projected well pads, a distance scientific literature has said can be related to health risks. In Wayne County, nearly 60 percent of the county’s residents may be affected.
  • The Marcellus Shale Coalition, whose website says it provides “in-depth information to policymakers, regulators, media, and other public stakeholders on the positive impacts responsible natural gas production is having on families, businesses and communities,” scoffed at the study.

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