Natural Gas Development Putting Clean Water at Risk for Millions of People
Location: New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland
One of the longest rivers in America, the Susquehanna River provides over half of the freshwater to the Chesapeake Bay and drinking water to millions of people. Communities and businesses depend on the river for drinking water, commerce, hydropower generation, and recreational boating. Now this resource is at risk of contamination.
The Susquehanna River and its tributaries flow over the Marcellus Shale region, a rock formation underlying much of New York and Pennsylvania, containing reserves of natural gas. The rush to develop natural gas has come without consideration of the impacts to clean water, rivers, and the health of these communities.
The threat of contamination is high. As part of the hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” process to extract natural gas, massive amounts of water are withdrawn from rivers and streams. The water is then mixed with sand and toxic chemicals and pumped underground to fracture the shale under extreme pressure. A portion of that highly toxic, highly saline, and potentially radioactive wastewater will return to the surface, and requires specialized treatment, but at this time, only a limited number of wastewater treatment facilities have the capacity to handle it.
Already, spills from trucks hauling wastewater, leaks from lined fluid holding pits, and cracked well casings have contaminated private water wells. The potential for future environmental and public health catastrophes along the Susquehanna will only increase, considering the number of new wells projected and the amount of toxic wastewater produced.
What Must Be Done
While Pennsylvania and New York have been working to improve clean water safeguards for natural gas development, they fall short of adequately protecting the water supply for millions of Americans. It is the responsibility of these states, along with the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC), to analyze all of the potential cumulative impacts that could result from natural gas extraction, and ensure proper regulations are in place and capable of being enforced before development is allowed to continue.
Pennsylvania, New York, and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission need to announce a complete moratorium on water withdrawals and hydraulic fracturing until there are comprehensive regulations in place for natural gas development or they will put public health and drinking water at risk.