PA Fracking

I hadn’t realized that fracking was happening in Pennsylvania, until I read THIS POST, from which this excerpt is taken:

What are the biggest threats to the Youghiogheny River?

A relatively new and very significant threat we now face is fracking for unconventional natural gas. The Marcellus Shale is a rock formation that underlies approximately two-thirds of Pennsylvania and portions of New York, Ohio, Maryland and West Virginia — and our entire watershed. The shale is generally at a depth of 5,000 to 8,000 feet and is believed to hold trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. Until recently the gas was considered too expensive to access, but a new twist on an old drilling technology, called ‘horizontal slickwater hydraulic fracturing’ or ‘fracking’ for short, allows for new access to this layer of shale and the natural gas it holds.

Extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale formation requires drilling, oftentimes vertical and horizontal, along with fracking. After a well is drilled, large amounts of water mixed with sand, chemicals and other fluids are pumped under high pressure into the well to fracture the shale bedrock around the well bore. This process allows the natural gas to flow freely toward the well. Water used ranges from 3 to 7 million gallons per well for each time the well is fractured depending on the depth drilled to and the length of the horizontal extension. This water often comes from surface withdrawals or from public water suppliers; by any standard, it’s a very large amount of water. Each well can be fracked multiple times and well pads are seldom home to less than three wells.

Well pads require at least three acres, but typical pads range from 20 to 25 acres depending on the number of wells planned for the site and other required infrastructure. Each well must be connected to a major natural gas transmission line by smaller pipelines known as gathering lines. Compressor stations are constructed along these pipelines to ensure the gas maintains appropriate pressure when transported. Methane is not the only natural gas that comes up in the extraction process and often dehydration and separating units are necessary to isolate methane and get it to market. In areas where other gasses are abundant, cryogenic plants are constructed to ready other gasses (propane, ethane, butane) for sale. Roads must be constructed for site access, impoundments or large numbers of water storage tanks are used to store flowback water — the toxic liquid that flows back to the surface once fracking is complete. All of these activities require the clearing of additional land.

Development of unconventional gas causes disruption at the landscape level. Some build-out scenarios for Pennsylvania predict up to 60,000 shale gas wells by 2030, with the vast majority being constructed in areas that are currently forested. The clearing of this much forested land will diminish the character of our cold, headwater streams and will certainly have a negative impact on water quality — not to mention quality of life. The Nature Conservancy predicts over 70 percent of Pennsylvania’s remaining brook trout streams will have gas well construction in their watersheds. The consequences of this type of development will significantly alter our landscape and people’s enjoyment of it.

I also think it’s important to note when people promote natural gas as a bridge fuel, they are not considering the permanence of the infrastructure required to support this industry, the long-term landscape changes that result or the impact of these activities on populated areas.