This peer-reviewed paper comes to the conclusion that a ban is essential in the absence of complete studies:
Animals, especially livestock, are sensitive to the contaminants released into the environment by drilling and by its cumulative impacts. Documentation of cases in six states strongly implicates exposure to gas drilling operations in serious health effects on humans, companion animals, livestock, horses, and wildlife. Although the lack of complete testing of water, air, soil and animal tissues hampers thorough analysis of the connection between gas drilling and health, policy changes could assist in the collection of more complete data sets and also partially mitigate the risk to humans and animals. Without complete studies, given the many apparent adverse impacts on human and animal health, a ban on shale gas drilling is essential for the protection of public health. In states that nevertheless allow this process, the use of commonsense measures to reduce the impact on human and animals must be required in addition to full disclosure and testing of air, water, soil, animals, and humans.
A scientific report from the Forest Department establishes that flowback fluid stored in large tanks gives different results depending on how deep in the tank samples are taken. At the deepest level, the solution has the greatest toxicity. While this may seem funny at first, it has serious implications in regards to regulation. If samples are taken from the top of a tank, the possibility to easily circumvent regulation does exist.
A natural gas well in West Virginia was hydraulically fractured and the ﬂowback was
recovered and stored in an 18-foot-deep tank. Both in situ ﬁeld test kit and laboratory
measurements of electrical conductivity and chloride concentrations increased substantially
with depth, although the laboratory measurements showed a greater increase. The ﬁeld
test kit also underestimated chloride concentrations in prepared standards when they
exceeded 8,000 mg L-1, indicating that laboratory analyses or other more accurate methods
of detection should be used to determine chloride concentrations in ﬂowback when they may
be approaching West Virginia regulatory levels (12,500 mg L-1) that disallow disposal by land
application. The gradation of chloride with depth also has implications for procedures used
to collect ﬂ owback samples from reserve pits or tanks before disposal to ensure the resulting
composite chloride concentration is representative of the total volume.
Directional drilling and hydraulic-fracturing technologies are dramatically increasing natural-gas extraction. In aquifers overlying the Marcellus and Utica shale formations of northeastern Pennsylvania and upstate New York, we document systematic evidence for methane contamination of drinking water associated with shale-gas extraction. In active gas-extraction areas (one or more gas wells within 1 km), average and maximum methane concentrations in drinking-water wells increased with proximity to the nearest gas well and were 19.2 and 64 mg CH4 L-1 (n = 26), a potential explosion hazard; in contrast, dissolved methane samples in neighboring nonextraction sites (no gas wells within 1 km) within similar geologic formations and hydrogeologic regimes averaged only 1.1 mg L-1 (P < 0.05; n = 34). Average δ13C-CH4 values of dissolved methane in shallow groundwater were significantly less negative for active than for nonactive sites (-37 ± 7‰ and -54 ± 11‰, respectively;P < 0.0001). These δ13C-CH4 data, coupled with the ratios of methane-to-higher-chain hydrocarbons, and δ2H-CH4 values, are consistent with deeper thermogenic methane sources such as the Marcellus and Utica shales at the active sites and matched gas geochemistry from gas wells nearby. In contrast, lower-concentration samples from shallow groundwater at nonactive sites had isotopic signatures reflecting a more biogenic or mixed biogenic/thermogenic methane source. We found no evidence for contamination of drinking-water samples with deep saline brines or fracturing fluids. We conclude that greater stewardship, data, and—possibly—regulation are needed to ensure the sustainable future of shale-gas extraction and to improve public confidence in its use.
The following is the abstract for the report titled Land Application of Hydrofracturing Fluids Damages a Deciduous Forest Stand in West Virginia, by Mary Beth Adams, from the Journal of Environmental Quality.
In June 2008, 303,000 L of hydrofracturing fluid from a natural gas well were applied to a 0.20-ha area of mixed hardwood forest on the Fernow Experimental Forest, West Virginia. During application, severe damage and mortality of ground vegetation was observed, followed about 10 d later by premature leaf drop by the overstory trees. Two years after fluid application, 56% of the trees within the fluid application area were dead. Fagus grandifoliaEhrh. was the tree species with the highest mortality, and Acer rubrum L. was the least affected, although all tree species present on the site showed damage symptoms and mortality. Surface soils (0–10 cm) were sampled in July and October 2008, June and October 2009, and May 2010 on the fluid application area and an adjacent reference area to evaluate the effects of the hydrofracturing fluid on soil chemistry and to attempt to identify the main chemical constituents of the hydrofracturing fluid. Surface soil concentrations of sodium and chloride increased 50-fold as a result of the land application of hydrofracturing fluids and declined over time. Soil acidity in the fluid application area declined with time, perhaps from altered organic matter cycling. This case study identifies the need for further research to help understand the nature and the environmental impacts of hydrofracturing fluids to devise optimal, safe disposal strategies.
El Cerrito, CA-- Citizen sampling of air quality near natural gas production facilities has identified highly unsafe levels of toxic chemicals near homes, playgrounds, schools and community centers in Colorado and New Mexico. A new report issued by Global Community Monitor, GASSED!Citizen Investigation of Toxic Air Pollution from Natural Gas Development, details the air sampling results, environmental and public health threats with living amid the natural gas boom.
A coalition of environmental and community based organizations in Colorado and New Mexico collected nine air samples that were analyzed by a certified lab. The lab detected a total of 22 toxic chemicals in the air samples, including four known carcinogens, as well as toxins known to damage the nervous system and respiratory irritants. The chemicals detected ranged from 3 to 3,000 times higher than what is considered safe by state and federal agencies. Sampling was conducted in the San Juan Basin area of Colorado and New Mexico, as well as Garfield County in western Colorado.
“Carcinogenic chemicals like benzene and acrylonitrile should not be in the air we breathe – and certainly not at these potentially harmful levels," said Dr. Mark Chernaik, scientist. “These results suggest neighboring communities are not being protected and their long-term health is being put at risk.”
"My husband, pets, and I have experienced respiratory and other health related problems during the twelve years we have lived on Cow Canyon Road in La Plata County, Colorado. We believe these health issues are related to the air quality in our neighborhood and in the area,” said Jeri L. Montgomery, neighbor of natural gas development. Through the course of the pilot study, neighbors of natural gas production facilities documented chemical odors and sampled the air. Neighbors have appealed to local, state and national government agencies to investigate their air quality complaints, to limited recourse.
"We are very concerned about the total disregard for the health and welfare of the people "existing" near the sickening toxic oil and gas industry dumps located in neighborhoods such as the land farm on Crouch Mesa and the waste disposal facility in Bloomfield that are permitted and approved by the State of New Mexico and Federal EPA,” said Shirley McNall, member of San Juan County, NM Residents Worried About Our Health.
"Experts and agencies recognize more air monitoring is needed, but it's not happening," said Paul Light, co-chair of the Battlement Concerned Citizens. "Rather than wait for the government, we used the Bucket Brigade to collect much-needed air quality information."
The community and environmental groups in the San Juan Basin and western Colorado worked with Global Community Monitor, which trains community members living near industrial operations to run their own “Bucket Brigade” to sample their air. The Bucket Brigade has been used in 27 countries internationally. The bucket uses EPA methods for testing and an independent lab for air sample analysis.
Complaints about air quality have also surfaced in other states around the country, including West Virginia, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wyoming. Little information exists to educate and inform citizens about the chemicals being stored, emitted into the air, ground or water in close proximity to their homes. “People are getting gassed, and they don’t even know what is coming at them. The air monitoring provides crucial information in understanding what families are being exposed to on a day-to-day basis,” said Denny Larson of Global Community Monitor.
Federal loopholes in the Clean Air Act allow major corporations to circumvent basic protections that put public health first. US EPA is currently drafting new regulations to control and monitor air pollution from natural gas development. Congress is debating new legislation, such as the Bringing Reductions to Energies Air Born Toxic Health Effects (BREATHE) Act.
As regulation moves forward, GASSED! states that solutions are possible. The natural gas industry should invest in pollution controls to increase efficiency and reduce the amount of chemicals in the air. The report also calls for mandatory air monitoring at all natural gas operations and disclosure of chemicals used in the process to local residents.
In addition, the proximity of neighbors and wells is often too close. The report recommends a minimum quarter mile buffer zone between homes, schools and natural gas operations. This is similar to regulations enacted by Tulare County, CA on pesticide spray and St. Charles Parish, LA on industrial development. The report further states, “As the natural gas industry continues to grow, so will the number of families neighboring and affected by the emissions. Industry and government leaders have a unique opportunity to address public health and environmental issues. For coexistence between communities and gas industry to be possible, chemical exposure has to be immediately addressed.”
A Preliminary Study on the Impact of Marcellus Shale Drilling on Headwater Streams
The vast deposits of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania promise a significant source of domestic energy that—for a fossil fuel—is relatively clean. However, hydrofracturing, the method for recovering the natural gas from this deep geologic formation, has generated a great deal of controversy and is considered by many to pose serious environmental threats to aquifers and surface waters.
Hydrofracturing involves the injection of huge volumes of water supplemented with additives that promote rock fracturing and the release of natural gas; the composition of these additives are proprietary, but many of the identified constituents are known to present health and/or environmental hazards. Flowback, the return of the water to the surface, is highest immediately following hydrofracturing but continues for the duration natural gas collection.
Regulatory oversight and the adoption of best practices can help reduce surface water contamination by flowback, but spills will continue to occur. One of the unresolved questions concerning the Marcellus Shale is the cumulative effects of large scale development on surface waters. How much drilling and extraction can be sustained without seriously degrading local waters?
This preliminary study, conducted by Frank W. Anderson, Patrick Center Staff Scientist, sought to address this question by examining the relationship of the intensity of natural gas drilling, as expressed by well density per watershed area, on local stream health. Mr. Anderson was a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania's Department of Earth and Environmental Studies. He was advised by faculty member Dr. Fred Scatena and by Dr. Jerry Mead, Section Leaderr of the Watershed and Systems Ecology Section of the Patrick Center for Environmental Research at the Academy of Natural Sciences.
During July 2010, Mr. Anderson studied nine headwater streams located within, or adjacent to, Susquehanna County in northeastern Pennsylvania. All of the streams are tributaries of the North Branch of the Susquehanna River.
The sites were similar in watershed and physical stream characteristics, but differed in the density of natural gas wells in their catchments. Three of the sites are classified as high-density (0.75-2.38 wells/km2). Three other sites have lower well densities (0.39-0.61 wells/km2), and three reference sites have no drilling within their catchments (Table 1).
Table 1. Physical characteristics of the study sites
(See methods for explanation of units)
Well densities (wells/km2) were determined using Google Maps, Arc GIS, and IDRISI. Natural gas well locations were determined by using map data from Fracktracker.org and PAGasLease.com and in most cases were confirmed with on-site observations. GIS was used to determine watershed area (km2), topography, and percent forest cover, while percent riparian canopy cover was measured with a spherical densiometer. Streambed substrates were assessed by performing a 100 point Wolman Pebble Count (D-50); each particle was also observed for embeddedness in fine substrate. Active channel and bankfull widths and stream depth (in meters) were recorded. Stream velocities (feet/second) were measured with a Mash McBriney flowmeter.
Macroinvertebrates communities were assessed following the EPA protocol for monitoring stream macroinvertebrates. Samples were taken from riffle zones using a kick-net, stored in 89% ethanol, and then identified to the family level. Three indices were used to assess community structure: family richness (the number of macroinvertebrate families); the percent of individuals represented by Ephemeropera, Plecoptera and Trichoptera (ETP); and Shannon Diversity. Aquatic amphibians were were quantified by performing 5 minute timed-searches in addition to collection obtained during kick-net sampling. In addition, algal presence was recorded during the Wolman Pebble Count. Specific conductance (µS/cm), total dissolved solids (TDS, mg/l), and pH were measured using a YSI 557.
A correlation matrix of stream quality indicators with physical characteristics was generated and paired t-tests were conducted to compare differences among high-density, low-density, and reference sites.
Data from this preliminary study demonstrate an association between increases in natural gas well density with decreases in water quality indicators (Table 2). Despite the small sample sizes involved, a number of statistically significant correlations emerged for bothboth natural gas well density and riparian canopy cover. Specific conductance and total dissolved solids were positively correlated with well density; greater well density led to higher levels of specific conductivity and total dissolved solids. HD sites showed on average a 60% increase in specific conductivity values compared to LD sites.
Table 2. Stream quality indicators for the study sites
Macroinvertebrates, such as mayfly nymphs, are widely regarded by biologists as effective water quality indicators. Macroinvertebrate indicators (% EPT, Shannon diversity, and family richness) were negatively correlated with well density indicating decreasing water quality with increasing well density (Table 3). Specific conductance, total dissolved solids, and algal presence were negatively correlated with riparian canopy coverage.
Table 3. Correlation matrix (r2) of selected physical characteristics and stream quality indicators. Significant correlations are in bold.
(‡ = p > 0.05; † p > 0.1)
Paired T-tests revealed significant differences between High Well Density sites compared to Low Well Density sites and References (R) sites. LD and R sites were not found to be significantly different. Specific conductance and total dissolved solids were elevated in HD sites, but two indicators of macroinvertebrate community quality, Shannon Diversity and family richness, were depressed (Table 4). Testing indicated that assumptions were met to conduct t-tests.
Table 4. Paired T-tests comparing High Well Density (HD), Low Well Density (LD) and Reference (R) sites. Significant values are in bold.
(Paired data are stream quality indicator means; ‡ = p > 0.05; † p > 0.1)
HD and LD
HD and R
LD and R
The results present significant correlations with respect to natural gas well density and riparian canopy coverage. The significant correlations involving the latter are unexpected given the narrow 15% range recorded from the nine stations (75-90%). Moreover, while substantial differences in riparian cover are known to influence macroinvertebrate and algal populations, they are not considered important factors in determining stream chemistry. Considering the small differences in the riparian zones and the more substantial differences in well density, correlations with riparian coverage may be the result of cross-correlations with natural gas drilling density.
On the other hand, significant relationships between natural gas well density and indicators of stream health were demonstrated in this study despite its preliminary nature and the small sample sizes involved. Increased well density is associated with elevated levels of chemical contaminants (specific conductance and total dissolved solids) and the degradation of macroinvertebrate community structure. Moreover, the negative impacts were only evident in sites with high drilling densities; there were no statistically discernable differences between sites in catchments with low drilling densities and those with none. This last finding suggests that there is an operational threshold of drilling intensity below which the impacts on surface waters are sustainable. Increasing well density increases the cumulative impacts of extraction as well as increases the probability of an environmentally damaging event like a blowout or large volume leak occurring in a given watershed.