Background Readings

Water Resources and the Marcellus Shale

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Did you know that the Susquehanna River Basin drains more than 27,000 square miles of Pennsylvania? It has more than 49,000 miles of waterways and is home to native brook trout and several rare and endangered mussel species. The basin is also a haven for recreation: people enjoy fishing, boating, and bird watching along its shores. The river itself is the largest tributary to the Chesapeake Bay, providing about 50% of its freshwater flow. At its mouth near Havre de Grace, MD, the Susquehanna River flows at an average rate of 18 billion gallons per day.

The Marcellus Shale formation underlies 72% of the land area in the Susquehanna River Basin. Removal of the gas trapped in the resource has the potential to impact the basin in many different ways. For example, in 2009, the number of natural gas wells drilled in Pennsylvania’s portion of the Marcellus Shale nearly quadrupled, rising from 196 wells in 2008 to 763 wells (DEP Bureau of Oil and Gas Management). If the average amount of freshwater used to fracture a single well ranges from 4 to 7 million gallons of water, as much as 5 trillion gallons of water were injected into Pennsylvania’s portion of the Marcellus shale fields in 2009. Even more may be used in the future.

So what effects will natural gas drilling have on the people of the Susquehanna River Basin? What about the natural resources? How do we decide how to manage this emerging environmental and economic issue?

Use the background readings, videos, and in-depth articles from our guides in industry, regulatory agencies, and conservation organizations to investigate the impacts of natural gas drilling on water quality, water quantity, and aquatic biodiversity in the Susquehanna watershed. We’ll also hear from landowners and local communities about some of the social and economic factors that come along with gas field development.

  1. Water Quality
  2. Water Quantity
  3. Biodiversity

Your Guides for Water Resource Impacts

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