(ANNAPOLIS, MD)— The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and its partners took actions today to call on the federal government to conduct a comprehensive scientific analysis of the cumulative impacts of natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation in the six Bay states, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, West Virginia, and Virginia.
The first action was to file a legal petition, under the National Environmental Policy Act, calling for that comprehensive analysis, called a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, of the risks and cumulative impacts of the extraction of natural gas from the Marcellus shale formation in the Chesapeake Bay states. Once the analysis is complete the petition calls on the government to make appropriate decisions about the need for new regulatory action. Along with CBF, the petition was signed by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Shenandoah Valley Network, The Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, and Friends of the Upper Delaware River.
CBF also sent a letter to President Obama in support of the legal petition, signed more than 120 businesses, organizations, elected officials, and individuals who are extremely concerned about the unknown consequences and cumulative impacts of natural gas extraction from the Marcellus shale formation on the environment, drinking water and human health, and America’s treasured lands such as our national parks, wilderness areas, and wildlife refuges. Signatories to the letter include Audubon Pennsylvania, Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture), the Mid-Atlantic Council Trout Unlimited, The Garden Club of America, and American Rivers.
“Ensuring clean, safe drinking water, healthy aquatic ecosystems, and healthy air across a multi-state ecosystem cannot be done without an unbiased and comprehensive assessment of all the impacts, and that assessment is the responsibility of the federal government,” said CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director Matt Ehrhart. “Where drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus shale formation is concerned, that responsibility has been unfulfilled. If we are to have healthy rivers and streams along with the economic activity of natural gas extraction, we must fill the gaps in the science that now exist.”
While natural gas in the Marcellus shale offers an abundant source of domestically-produced energy that can create jobs and provide income, the history of resource extraction in this country is littered with long-lasting environmental degradation and risks to human health.
Drilling is already causing damage, to both human health and the environment. There has been contamination of drinking water wells, gas bubbling up into the Susquehanna River, spills of fracking water and diesel fuel, fires, blowouts, and explosions.
“The law is clear that the federal government is required to undertake a comprehensive study if activities like Marcellus drilling are likely to affect the environment through the release of hazardous substances, result in significant cumulative adverse impacts on local air quality, or significantly affect important resources including wetlands, aquifer recharge zones, or fish or wildlife habitat,” said CBF attorney Amy McDonnell. “It is good science and good business to get the facts and that is what we are seeking. Nothing less than human health is also at stake.”
In many of the Bay states, most notably in Pennsylvania, natural gas wells are being permitted at breakneck speed with scant regard to the cumulative damage that is occurring, or support for the affected communities. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the state issued over 1,900 permits for Marcellus shale drilling in 2009. In 2010 it issued over 3,300 more. And, in the first two months of 2011, Pennsylvania issued an additional 590 permits. If that pace continues, Pennsylvania will approve over 3,500 new permits this year alone.
A preliminary report from the Academy of Natural Sciences tested water, and looked for sensitive insects and salamanders in areas with no wells, few wells, and high numbers of wells. It found that as the number of wells in an area increased, water quality deteriorated, and the number of insects and salamanders decreased by 25 percent. In a press statement Dr. David Velinsky of the Academy of Natural Sciences said, “This suggests there is indeed a threshold at which drilling—regardless of how it is practiced—will have a significant impact on an ecosystem.”
“With 35 national parks within or near the Marcellus Shale formation, including nine in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the threats to our national treasures are great,” said Cinda Waldbuesser, senior program manager for NPCA’s Pennsylvania field office. “The economic benefits of natural gas development must not compromise the long-term benefits of protecting water quality and preserving our national parks, which are already economic generators for local communities.”
The Executive Order issued by President Obama in 2009 says, “Restoration of the health of the Chesapeake Bay will require a renewed commitment to controlling pollution from all sources as well as protecting and restoring habitat and living resources, conserving lands, and improving management of natural resources, all of which contribute to improved water quality and ecosystem health. The Federal Government should lead this effort.”
And though there are several risk assessments underway, none is comprehensive or complete. The cumulative effects of pollution from Marcellus shale drilling activities currently underway or proposed in the future have not been assessed or factored in to any of the state plans to reduce pollution.