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Recent Study on Shale Gas Development and Surface Water Quality Conducted in Pennsylvania

Posted: March 17, 2013

A large-scale study of the extent to which shale gas development activities affect surface water quality was done by Resources for the Future

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has recently published research done by Sheila M. Olmstead, Lucija A. Muehlenbachs, Jhih-Shyang Shih, Ziyan Chu, and Alan J. Krupnick for Resources for the Future (RFF) looking at shale gas development impacts on surface water quality in Pennsylvania. 

The study reviewed over 20,000 water quality observations in Pennsylvania from 2000 to 2011 as well as shale gas well locations, shale gas waste shipments to waste treatment facilities and water body characteristics.  The study suggested that the treatment and then release of shale gas waste by permitted treatment facilities increased chloride concentrations downstream from such plants.  With the 2011 voluntary ban on shale gas waste to municipal sewage treatment plants, RFF stated this partially addresses the chloride concentrations in the study.  The study determined the presence of well pads upstream raised the concentration of total suspended solids (TSS).  More research is needed to determine the role of well pad development and infrastructure construction on TSS.  The study is a good start on further water quality impacts, and will be useful for reviewing industry operations and regulatory processes regarding well location, waste water treatment and disposal, erosion control and continued monitoring. 

The research paper can be found here on the PNAS website.