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Article, Refereed Journal

Shale gas development impacts on surface water quality in Pennsylvania

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110(13): 4962-4967.

Olmstead, Sheila

Concern has been raised in the scientific literature about the environmental implications of extracting natural gas from deep shale formations, and published studies suggest that shale gas development may affect local groundwater quality. The potential for surface water quality degradation has been discussed in prior work, although noempirical analysis of this issue has been published. The potential for large-scale surface water quality degradation has affected regulatory approaches to shale gas development in some US states, despite the dearth of evidence. This paper conducts a large-scale examination of the extent to which shale gas development activities affect surface water quality. Focusing on the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, we estimate the effect of shale gas wells and the release of treated shale gas waste by permitted treatment facilities on observed downstream concentrations of chloride (Cl_) and total suspended solids (TSS), controlling for other factors. Results suggest that (i) the treatment of shale gas waste by treatment plants in a watershed raises downstream Cl_ concentrations but not TSS concentrations, and (ii ) the presence of shale gas wells in a watershed raises downstream TSS concentrations but not Cl_ concentrations. These results can inform future voluntary measures taken by shale gas operators and policy approaches taken by regulators to protect surface water quality as the scale of this economically important activity increases.

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