New USGS analysis: threats to water, wildlife, and health from oil and gas development in the Appalachian basin

A new analysis from the U.S. Geological Survey discusses critical issues and evolving developments regarding water resources and oil and gas production in the Appalachian Basin. Among the USGS findings:

  • Compared to conventional gas production, the scale of shale gas operations may be much larger and has the potential to create significantly greater effects on landscapes, watersheds, water supplies, and water quality.
  • Effective management strategies are needed for the region’s water resources in light of the increasingly variable climate.
  • The knowledge of how extraction might affect water resources has not kept pace with development. We still need a better understanding of the potential environmental effects from the hydraulic fracturing process and how to limit adverse effects and improve monitoring to insure environmental quality.
  • Drilling waste can be rich in radium, a naturally occurring radioactive materials, and may emit radiation to those working near drilling equipment over time.
  •  When radioactive waste is disposed of in a landfill or in local soil, it can leach into the local water table, run off to the local watershed, or be taken up by plants.
  • Waste sludge that results from the recycling of used fracking fluid (aka flowback) requires special handling and disposal in properly designed and regulated landfills, and can pose problems even for advanced treatment facilities due to gamma radiation emissions.
  • Induced seismicity can occur when fluids are injected into oil and gas waste diposal wells.
  • Drilling waste contains minerals that become more water-soluble and more mobile when exposed to air and rainwater, especially under acidid conditions. The waste can contain detectable amounts of heavy metals and other elements that can be detrimental to the environment if mobilized and concentrated. More analysis is needed to evaluate the potential environmental hazards.
  • Construction of roads and wellpads may result in considerable land and wildlife disturbance within small watersheds.

The USGS analysis, based on research and science, concludes that the impacts can be considerable--and there are still many unknowns about the impacts and to what extent they can be reduced.