Academy explores ecological impact of natural gas drilling

    Wells, pipelines, access roads associated with Marcellus Shale development may be impinging on salamander habitats. The Academy of Natural Sciences is seeking funding to study how gas drilling impacts streams.

    Researchers at the Academy of Natural Sciences say there could be a connection between the density of natural gas wells and damage to ecosystems. The academy is seeking funding to study how gas drilling impacts streams.

    The rapid development of Pennsylvania’s deep gas reserve known as the Marcellus Shale means some counties have lots of new well sites, pipelines and access roads.

    Researchers at the Academy of Natural Sciences say that kind of activity could disturb habitats, impacting ecosystems. They took a preliminary look at how salamanders are doing in high-intensity drilling areas, compared to areas of less drilling and no drilling. The study found that in the high-drilling regions, salamanders are faring a lot worse than in similar habitats without drill sites.

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    The Academy of Natural Sciences wants the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to fund a more in-depth study.

    “The study can go both ways…maybe they decide, well, we can put x amount of well pads in a given watershed and not have any impact,” said David Velinsky, vice president of research at the academy. “That’s a good thing. That allows for the drilling in a healthy way, where you can say, a certain level we don’t want to have but a certain level is OK.”

    Velinsky said the preliminary research shows a greater level of pollutants in waterways surrounding high-density well sites, which could indicate wastewater from the drilling process is contaminating groundwater. But he said the conditions also could be caused by runoff from road salt and fertilizers.

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