National, Eel, Luquillo, Shale Hills, INVESTIGATOR, COLLABORATOR
The number of unconventional Marcellus shale wells in PA has increased from 8 in 2005 to more than 6000 today. This rapid development has been accompanied by environmental issues. We analyze publicly available data describing this Pennsylvania experience (data from www.shalenetwork.org and PA Department of Environmental Protection, i.e., PA DEP). After removing permitting and reporting violations, the average percent of wells/year with at least one notice of violation (NOV) from PA DEP is 35 %. Most violations are minor. An analysis of NOVs reported for wells drilled before 2013 revealed a rate of casing, cement, or well construction issues of 3.4%. Sixteen wells were given notices specifically related to migration of methane. A similarly low percent of wells were contaminated by brine components. Such contamination could derive from spills, subsurface migration of flowback water or shallow natural brines, or contamination by drill cuttings. Most cases of contamination of drinking water supplies with methane or brine components were reported in the previously glaciated part of the state. Before 2011, flowback and production water was often discharged legally into streams after minimal treatment, possibly increasing dissolved Br concentrations in some rivers. The rate of large spills or releases of gas-related industrial wastes in the state peaked in 2009 but little evidence of spills has been found in publicly available surface water chemistry data. The most likely indicators of spillage or subsurface release of flowback or production waters are the dissolved ions Na, Ca, and Cl. However, the data coverage for any given analyte is generally spatially and temporally sparse. Publicly available water quality data for before and after spills into Larrys Creek and Bobs Creek document the difficulties of detecting such events. An observation from the Pennsylvania experience is that the large number of people who have complained about their water supply (~1000 letters investigated by state regulators) and the media attention during the fast start in PA may have led to better management practices. Maintaining online databases of observations could similarly drive shale-gas practice to become even more environmentally protective.
Brantley, S.L., Yoxtheimer, D., Arjmand, S., Grieve, P., Vidic, R., Abad, J.D., Simon, C.A., Pollak, J. (2013): Water Resource Impacts During Unconventional Shale Gas Development: The Pennsylvania Experience. Abstract PA14A-02 presented at 2013 Fall Meeting, AGU, San Francisco, CA, 9-13 Dec..
This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.