With a banner reading “Our Drinking Water Maters: Stop Drilling Marcellus” we call for a moratorium on further Marcellus shale development in Pennsylvania. As Pittsburgh hosts the U.N. World Environment Day, there is great public focus on the importance of clean water and on Pittsburgh’s transition to a green economy. We are deeply troubled that this dialogue has not addressed the serious impacts of Marcellus Shale gas drilling on our water, land, and health. The scope of its impact across Pennsylvania is truly enormous, but as yet the public has little familiarity with the issue.
In the summer of 2009, the Monongahela River exceeded the safe maximum daily levels for total dissolved solids and thousands of residents whose drinking water comes from the river were told not to drink from their taps1. Marcellus shale gas drilling caused this pollution.
Across Pennsylvania, the problem is only going to get worse. In 2009, 763 Marcellus wells were drilled; over 2000 additional permits have already been granted, and thousands more are in the works2. Each well uses between 500,000 and 3 million gallons of water3. The water is used to open the gas well, contaminated in the process with mineral salts and industrial chemicals, then disposed of back into our rivers and streams.
State and federal regulators are allowing the drilling to proceed, even though there are no wastewater treatment facilities in Pennsylvania that are capable of removing the high levels of mineral salt pollution in the wastewater1,4. Wastewater treatment systems do not remove the industrial chemicals in the water either, which have been documented as harmful to human health5.
Marcellus drilling also poses a grave threat to the health of aquatic communities. Disposal of high volumes of wastewater full of mineral salts, combined with high levels of water withdrawal, can destroy entire ecosystems, as exemplified by the disaster in Dunkard Creek in Southwestern Pennsylvania in the fall of last year. The wastewater created by Marcellus drilling will inevitably escalate levels of this same kind of pollution all across the state.
We wish to correct a public perception, aided by the PR of drilling companies, that Marcellus shale gas drilling represents an economic boon for rural communities. Many new jobs go to trained rig operators from Texas6, royalties for landholders often do not cover depreciation in property values due to damage caused by drilling, and increased tax revenues for municipalities promise to last only a couple years. Meanwhile, rural residents are subjected to extremely high noise levels, constant vehicle traffic, and toxic emissions into their air and water7,8. The promised benefits appear increasingly illusory.
The BP oil spill in the gulf has taught us that we should not risk what we cannot clean up. The same companies involved in the production chain for the BP well are involved in the production chain of Marcellus gas wells. We are calling for a moratorium on Marcellus drilling because we do not want to see Pennsylvania’s water and landscape sacrificed carelessly for profit as the Gulf coast has been. So far the state and federal government has only paved the way for energy companies to go forward, without sufficient consideration of the grave health and environmental consequences of normal operations, much less the potential risks of technology failures9.
The promised benefits are illusory, and we do not think they are worth the sacrifices. We call instead for Pennsylvania to make a true shift to a green economy by investing in the development of renewable energy sources, rather than accepting the plunder of our natural resources for short-term payoff.
Monongahela River drinking water pollution & Pennsylvania’s wastewater treatement capacity:
1 Sapien, Joaquin. “What can be done with the wastewater” Pittsburgh Post Gazette. 4 October 2009. web: 1 June 2010. http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09277/1002919-113.stm
Marcellus wells drilled and permitted in PA:
Marcellus well water use:
3Pennsylvania Geology vol. 38 number 1. http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/topogeo/pub/pageolmag/pdfs/v38n1.pdf 4 http://www.marcellus-shale.us/drilling_wastewater.htm
Health impacts of chemicals in gas drilling wastewater:
5 Colborn, Theo, PhD. “Introduction” Chemicals in Natural Gas Operations. http://www.endocrinedisruption.com/chemicals.introduction.php
Colborn, Theo, PhD. What You Need to Know About Natural Gas Production. Video lecture: available http://www.endocrinedisruption.com/chemicals.video.php
Impact of drilling on homes and rural life:
6 “Where are all the Marcellus Shale jobs?” by Bill Toland, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Friday, April 09, 2010. http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10099/1048898-28.stm 7 http://www.donnan.com/Marcellus-Gas_Hickory.htm
State & Federal Regulations lax for Marcellus drilling: