Shale gas development impacts on surface water quality in Pennsylvania used over 20,000 surface water quality observations taken over 11 years in Pennsylvania and found:
- The treatment and release of shale gas wastewater by treatment plants raised downstream chloride concentrations in surface water;
- The presence of well pads upstream raised the concentration of TSS; and
- No systematic statistical evidence of spills or leaks of flowback and produced water from shale gas wells into waterways.
In 2011 Pennsylvania placed a voluntary ban on the shipment of shale gas waste to municipal sewage treatment plants and some industrial wastewater treatment plants. RFF says that this “partially” addresses the chloride concentrations impacts estimated by their study. However, the “finding of measurable downstream impacts on TSS from shale gas infrastructure in only these first years of burgeoning shale gas development in Pennsylvania suggests that land management issues may be important as well.”
Clearly, shale gas development presents risks to rivers and streams, which can be avoided or minimized with strong regulations - including robust erosion and sedimentation measures - and industry embrace of best practices. It is essential that regulators and industry respond to the data presented by RFF.