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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Study cites threats to biodiversity from natgas development

A paper published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences says, not surprisingly, that natural gas development presents multiple threats to biodiversity.

Risks to biodiversity from hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the Marcellus and Utica shales by Dr. Erik Kiviat, of the Hudsonia ecology group says that those threats include pollution by toxic synthetic chemicals, salt, and radionuclides; landscape fragmentation from wellpads, pipelines, and roads; alteration of stream and wetland hydrology; and increased truck traffic.

The study says:

Despite concerns about human health, there has been little study of the impacts on habitats and biota. Taxa and guilds potentially sensitive to HVHHF [high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing] impacts include freshwater organisms (e.g., brook trout, freshwater mussels), fragmentation-sensitive biota (e.g., forest-interior breeding birds, forest orchids), and species with restricted geographic ranges (e.g., Wehrle's salamander, tongue-tied minnow). Impacts are potentially serious due to the rapid development of HVHHF over a large region.
Shale gas has engendered a great deal of controversy, largely because of its impact on human health, but effects on biological diversity and resources have scarcely been addressed in the public debate. This study indicated a wide range of potential impacts, some of which could be severe, including salinization of soils and surface waters and fragmentation of forests. The degree of industrialization of shale gas landscapes, and the 285,000 km² extent of the Marcellus and Utica shale gas region alone, should require great caution regarding impacts on biodiversity.
As I wrote here, the scale of this industry - and its impacts -will dwarf all of the previous waves of energy development that punctuate Pennsylvania's history - combined. Will industry embrace and regulators require tough regulations, smart planning and constantly improving best practices to avoid, minimize, and mitigate these impacts? Will great caution be taken in the shale gas era with our shared natural inheritance?

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