Addressing Marcellus Shale Pollution Concerns

The Forest Coalition ( is asking for our help in contacting Senators Casey ( and Specter ( and your Representative (get link to your Representative’s contact information at


From the Forest Coalition:


Marcellus gas drilling in Pennsylvania


Is it possible to enable growth of the Gas Energy Industry and still protect our Water Resources?


If we don’t do this correctly – from the start  taxpayers could be paying for a century of cleanup such as what we were stuck with from the Coal Industry Acid Mine Drainage cleanup.


Here is a list of problems that must be solved:


Water withdrawals – taking millions of gallons of fresh water from our streams could impact the fish & other biota and exacerbate the effects of drought.


Runoff and Groundwater impacts – DEP and our County Conservation Districts must discover ineffective site design and poor management practices or contamination of our water will occur.


Frackwater transport – 60 to 80% of the frackwater comes back up as “flowback”, up to 50 X saltier than the ocean. There must be a “chain of responsibility,” accounting for these contaminated fluids so they are not dumped illegally along the way.


Impoundments – All sites must be closely monitored. Steel containers are preferable to open frackwater reservoirs. The old days of using salty frackwater as “dust control” on roads are over.


Inadequate Frackwater treatment – At present some municipal sewage plants still accept the fluids for about 5 cents/gallon, but they lack the technology to properly treat it. Municipal treatment plants are simply a stopgap measure which allows the Marcellus industry to get someone else to accept responsibility for the contaminated fluid. The old mantra of “The solution to pollution is dilution” cannot apply; our health is at stake.


Injection – Some suggest that we simply pump the frackwater flowback deep underground, similar to our planned carbon sequestration. However, no one has proven that injection would be feasible or safe in Pennsylvania; it could possibly migrate and contaminate our aquifers.


Solids disposal is another matter. Last fall, for the first time ever, TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) levels in more than 90 miles of the Monongahela River exceeded 500 ppm with levels in excess of 900 ppm recorded. TDS are not treated at all by municipal sewage plants. They simply discharge them into the waterways and count on dilution to “treat the water.”


Degradation of water supplies – Private wells have been contaminated by frackwater. Water purification plants along the Monongahela River have experienced problems because of frackwater discharges upstream. Private wells, as in Dimock (Susquehanna County) have pollution problems associated with Marcellus drilling. Once the frackwater migrates from the surface to the water table, there is no easy way to prevent the spread of contaminants.


Conflict with PA WILDS, anglers – Our forest cannot be all things to all people. The efforts to promote PA Wilds will suffer when the first contamination of streams occurs. The beautiful cold water fisheries in the northern tier counties should be completely off-limits to Marcellus drilling.


Invasive species – 30 miles of Dunkard Creek (Green County) has been devastated by drilling-related Golden Algae. This dead, saline creek serves as a warning of things to come.


Lack of oversight DEP was already stretched thin before the draconian budget cut. The Marcellus drillers can look forward to even less oversight from DEP in the future.


Fragmentation of Forests – Hunter access will be affected by the huge drilling sites; ATVs will trespass on the many new haul roads. There are 2,535 miles of illegal ATV routes in our State Forests; each new haul road adds to the potential for trespass.


32,000 acres of new DCNR lands for Marcellus leasing With the 11/09/09 announcement of new sites for gas leases in Elk, Moshannon, Sproul, Susquehannock and Tioga State Forests, there will be increased fragmentation of forests and a greater probability of serious frackwater contamination.


Eminent Domain –The damage isn’t going to be confined to the lands which were leased. The gas must be transported in pipelines. If you’re on that route, be prepared for them – and the compressor stations which will run 24/7.


Softening of DEP regulations – If the new Chapter 102 regulations include PBR (Permit-by-Rule) are adopted, many drillers would be self-certifying their earth-disturbance activities. The fox guarding the henhouse…


Removal of County Conservation District oversight These watchdogs were taken out of the loop by DEP in March of 2009. Oversight will supposedly be done only by DEP in the future.


Failure to follow NY DEC’s lead – New York State is taking a cautious approach, realizing the threat to their watersheds. The NY Health Department has also raised concerns about the radioactive materials in frackwater (letter to DEC, July, 2009).


Potential for long-lasting catastrophe – If we fail to proceed cautiously, frackwater contamination could be a serious, long-term threat to human health. Once carcinogenic compounds in frackwater enter our water supplies, the worst-case scenario is a re-creation of Hooker  Chemical Company’s Love Canal or Hooker’s pollution of the Niagara Falls, NY water supply.


Other problems ? We wish we knew. This is the reason we should go very slowly in issuing permits for Marcellus drilling. Some have suggested a moratorium on new drilling, pending a real Environmental Impact Study by DEP. We hope that we have learned from our long-term problems with acid mine drainage – which will continue to be cleaned up on the taxpayer dime for many more years.


Because the Oil & Gas industry knew of the toxicity of frackwater, they successfully lobbied to have frackwater exempted from the Federal Clean Water Act in 2005. While they were successful in getting the so-called “Halliburton Amendment” through Congress and signed by President Bush, a bill is currently a bill in Congress, S 787 (, which would eliminate the so-called “Halliburton Amendment.”


Since we don’t know the short or long-term effects of frackwater, take time today to tell your Representative and Senators Casey and Specter to vote for S 787.

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4 Responses to Addressing Marcellus Shale Pollution Concerns

  1. Mark Terwilliger says:

    I am very pleased that PA Council of Churches is resourcing this concern. Below is a link to an article encouraging churches to get involved with this, printed in FAITH IN ACTION, the newsletter of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society.

    There are several people in the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture ( that are in communication with each other on fracking.

    I sit on the Upper Delaware River Roundtable that has wide representation from PA and NY State meeting every other month to address concerns related to fracking.

  2. Greg Wrightstone says:

    As a Christian and a petroleum geologist I cannot sit by and have this site provide factually incorrect information. There is so much that is not factually correct in what amounts to a diatribe above that I don’t know where to start.

    Based on my own research, there have been at least 48,000 wells hydro-fractured in Pa alone and more than 1.0 million in the US. Not one case of fresh water contamination has been documented. A reasonable person would be able to decide that we have a large enough database to conclude that it is unlikely to occur in the future.

    Can some degradation of the fresh water occur during drilling? Absolutely. As it can occur during the drilling of a water well, the construction of a house or any other activity that can disturb the surface.

    As a religious entity, should not the financial concerns of the flock also be considered? I have spoken with many farmers whose family farms were able to be saved and not sold because of the windfall they received. Unjustified hysteria and undocumented fears should not replace valid scientific basis for developing a clean burning resource that may help make America energy self-sufficient.

  3. Bob Thompson says:

    In response to Greg Wrightstone, I do believe we Christians have a duty to be good stewards of God’s creation. That said I wonder how much of What is said is correct or ?? Some Dimock wells were found to be polluted. I can find no PA DEP web information on this or any other investigations. Perhaps they are hiding something, at least not very public. Either way we must be cautious even if some may not get $$’s to save their property. If, and I do believe, like the coal contamination this will be our problem if not now then later. By the way none of the casing going through the aquifers are eathquake proof. So when the ‘BIG ONE’ hits the east coast we will have a problem!
    God Bless

  4. Pingback: Dr. Ferber’s Water Journal – Day 51: Marcellus in PA and NY | The King's Green Pad

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