Background Readings

Water Quality: Erosion and Stormwater Runoff


Gravel access road for gas well in Tioga County, PA.


Land cleared for a well pad in Tioga County, PA.


Once the well is drilled, it must be attached
to a pipeline to transport the natural gas. In this photo,
forested land is being cleared for pipeline construction
(Dimock, PA). Photo credit: Robin Scala.

To prepare the drilling site, the landowner’s property undergoes some chang es. Access roads must be built to transport heavy equipment, water, and workers to the drilling site. Trees and brush will be cleared from the area where the road and well pad will be placed. Land will be leveled to provide a flat surface for well pad construction. After the well is fractured and ready for production, it must be connected to a pipeline to transport the natural gas. In places where pipelines don't already exist, land must be cleared in order to bury the pipe.

Each of these construction activities can expose bare soil. Without trees and plants to hold the soil in the place, heavy rains can wash the mud into nearby streams. Muddy water is hard for fish and aquatic insects to breathe. Native mussels can also be buried by the sediment (sand and mud) that runs off the construction site during a storm. While mussels are excellent at filtering water, sand and sediment can clog their siphons, making it hard for them to feed. Sediment can also cover the bottom of the stream or river, spoiling breeding areas and other habitat for many stream critters.

While soil erosion can be harmful to water quality and the aquatic life it supports, regulations are in place to reduce erosion at well construction sites. Techniques include the use of barriers to prevent sediment from washing into nearby waterways and re-seeding bare areas after construction is completed.

Background Reading: (Each reading opens a separate window.)

  1. USGS Water Quality Primer
  2. Forest Landowners and Natural Gas Development

Discussion Questions:

  1. How might erosion or stormwater runoff impact water quality in a stream, river, or lake adjacent to the drilling site, or pipeline right-of-way?

  2. What can be done to reduce erosion or stormwater runoff during construction at the drilling site, or pipeline right-of-way?