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Energy/Water Nexus – Shale Gas

Responding to potential shale gas development in NY State

  1. Outreach & education through presentations and media – talks given both locally and nationally; interviews and consultation for both local news media and national papers such as the New York Times
  2. Original research in peer-reviewed literature and academic publications – focus on water and wastewater management, regional environmental impacts, and policy and planning implications at the state and regional level
  3. Testimony & comments submitted to state and federal policy-makers – including testimony before the NY State Senate Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation, and comments submitted to the US Environmental Protection Agency

Outreach & Education

Event Matrix
A framework for identifying and discussing potential water resource impacts from shale gas development

Activities associated with the recovery of natural gas from shale have multiple and significant impacts on water resources. Shale gas development entails construction of multi-acre well pads, vertical drilling through potable groundwater supplies, and horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing requiring millions of gallons of water. During the course of these operations, water needs to be acquired and transported to the well pad, stored and managed on site, and mixed with chemicals during hydraulic fracturing procedures. Wastewater generated after hydraulic fracturing (flowback water), as well as wastewater that is generated over the life of the well (produced water) must also be stored, transported, and treated.

The public, regulators and industry are all concerned with minimizing water resource impacts associated with shale gas development. However, obtaining a clear understanding of potential impacts is difficult because a) shale gas development entails a wide array of activities and risks, and b) there are few rigorous evaluations of risk and impacts. To help provide clarity and to assist all stakeholders, we have developed a simple framework for considering important water resource impacts from natural gas development.

Gas drilling impacts on water resources can be classified as arising from planned or unplanned events. Events that are planned include those integral to drilling operations. For example, each well requires a source of water, and each well produces wastewater that must be treated or otherwise disposed of. These events can be anticipated and closely regulated, and their magnitude is directly related to the pace and scale of gas drilling development. Unplanned events can be considered accidents. While they can be anticipated in the sense that they are likely to occur at some point, their occurrence and consequences are highly uncertain over time and space. Unplanned events include surface runoff during storms, spills and leaks, and subsurface events related to well integrity. The distinction between planned and unplanned events is useful for developing and prioritizing strategies for preventing, mitigating and monitoring for water resource impacts.

For more information, see our article in the magazine Clear Waters published by the NY Water Environment Association, or a similar piece written for Green Choices, a Cornell University website.

Original Research

Water Journey
A cartoon of the sources, uses, and final destinations of water throughout the shale gas development process

We analyze and track publicly available data on water and wastewater management within the context of Marcellus Shale development. Our studies look at natural systems, including potential impacts on stream flows for ecological and human uses, as well as engineered infrastructure, including potential impacts on private and public wastewater treatment facilities. Wherever possible, we also analyze and assess relevant state and federal policy, highlight strengths and weaknesses of current and proposed regulations, and provide suggestions for local and regional decision-makers. Our analyses also seek to place shale gas development in the context of other human activities that can and do impact the environment so that risk assessment approaches are as robust and accurate as possible.

Examples of our work

  • WRI peer-reviewed study “Toward strategic management of shale gas development: Regional, collective impacts on water resources,” published in Environmental Science & Policy, January 2012
  •  “Water’s journey through the shale drilling and production processes in the Mid-Atlantic region,” published in cooperation with Penn State Extension

Our work with Penn State Extension delineates and explains how water moves from surface and groundwater sources through the various stages of well drilling, water treatment, and final disposal and discharge. This demonstrates our responsiveness to the need for outreach and information across the region, and the benefits of partnering with other institutions.

Testimony & Commentary

The Draft USEPA report regarding investigations in ground water contamination and hydraulic fracturing in Pavillion, Wyoming

WRI responds to proposed legislation and regulation at the local, state, and federal levels. When appropriate, we submit expert commentary on water resource-related policies, provide state of the art science, and act as a conduit for researchers who wish to be involved in policy making. We also provide expert testimony at hearings and panels organized by various stakeholders, and represent a neutral, science-based perspective.

Examples of our work

  • Submitted commentary on USEPA’s “Draft investigation of ground water contamination near Pavillion, Wyoming” February 2012

WRI provided a NY perspective on the investigation. We recognized that natural gas development in Wyoming shares important differences and similarities with shale gas development in the Marcellus. We cautioned against using Wyoming in direct comparisons with New York, but also highlighted several aspects of natural gas development that likely need more scrutiny and study. In particular, we discuss the need for careful management of waste fluids, high standards for well cementing and casing, and the importance of fracturing fluid disclosure.