Chapter 3: Environmental Impact
Initial Site Impacts
Opening a site to hydrofracking requires clearing, grading and construction of site access roads, well pads and utilities. The area of a well pad is approximately 5 acres; the addition of access roads and pipelines grow each site to an estimated 7 acres per well. An average of up to 10 wells are drilled per pad, with a pad typically occurring every 1 or 2 square miles.
Well site development is accompanied by high levels of industrial activity – derricks, pipeline systems, compressor stations, waste disposal systems and heavy truck traffic (approximately 800 to 1200 trips per well) supplying water, chemicals, equipment and materials. Relatively rapid industrialization of the New York City watershed is expected to occur if industrial land use development is not regulated in conjunction with projected gas production.
Development impacts the rural landscape in several ways—habitat loss and fragmentation, clear cutting of forests, and conversion of pasture land to gravel or other low permeability compacted material, which increases storm water runoff and erosion.
The Catskill and Delaware watersheds supply 90% of New York City’s unfiltered drinking water. These areas overlap with parts of the Marcellus shale that have high gas production potential, and are being targeted for development. Approximately 1,076 square miles within the watershed are currently not protected by any law and therefore available for natural gas drilling.
Intensive natural gas well development in the watershed brings increased levels of risk to the water supply: risk of degrading source water quality, risk to long-term watershed health, risk of damaging critical infrastructure, and the risk of exposing watershed residents and potentially New York City residents to chronic low levels of toxic chemicals.
Exposure to the chemicals in fracking fluid has been linked to cancer, liver, kidney, brain, respiratory and skin disorders and birth defects.
The vertical portion of the well intersects layers of soil, clay, rock formations and aquifers, thus providing opportunities to contaminate water resources with toxic chemicals. Hydrofracking waste can also contaminate groundwater through surface spills and waste pit liner failures, as well as through improper disposal of wastewater.
The amount of water required to fracture a horizontal well in the Marcellus Shale can be on the order of 3 to 8 million gallons, indicating an average additional demand on a given watershed of roughly 1 to 2 billion gallons a year. This reduction of the watershed inflow would require an expansion of the storage system, which ultimately includes additional infrastructure, transportation, cost and alteration to the existing environment. Current estimates do not measure the impact of damage to habitat or the overall health of the watershed, nor do they factor in changes in hydrological patterns from the continued industrial alteration of the landscape or unforeseen climate change.
Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions
Methane (CH4), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), Sulfur Hexafluoride (SF6) and water vapor are the major greenhouse gases associated with the production, transmission, processing, storage, distribution and use of natural gas. Emissions of these gases were about 20% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2007.
Methane is released directly to the atmosphere when it leaks from natural gas wells, pipelines and processing and storage facilities. This makes up about 25% of total U.S. methane emissions. Co2 emissions were about 21% of total U.S. CO2 emissions and 17% of total U.S. GHG emissions. Non-GHG emissions produced from the natural gas industry include dust and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), Carbon Monoxide (CO), Nitrogen Oxides (NOX), Sulfur Oxides (SOX), Lead (Pb), Ammonia (NH3) and Mercury (Hg). Methane has roughly 20 times the "forcing" effect of Carbon Dioxide, meaning that it is 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas.